Celebrating One Year of the Criterion Channel

The Criterion Channel is like the bible of streaming services for people who give a damn about movies. For the sheer variety, history and global diversity they offer they are truly the crown jewel among the lot. When they rose out of the ashes of FilmStruck’s demise they picked up the torch for serious movie lovers and obsessives and for the past year they have proudly showcased a wide array of films and an almost limitless back catalogue of over one thousand movies, much of which will be there for the foreseeable future. When the streaming service began in 2019 they offered up a free movie every week that anyone could watch. It didn’t matter if you had a subscription. It gave audiences a little taste of what to expect from the channel. For cinephiles these choices were very “movies-101”, with the likes of Chungking Express (1994)and Stalker (1979)being so entrenched in the canon that I can remember them being mentioned among the all time greats when I first started getting into movies in 2004 at the perilous age of thirteen years old. But in addition to those movies they introduced viewers to Elaine May with her film Mikey and Nicky (1976), Karel Zamen’s delirious animation in The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1961)and there was even room for wuxia with John Woo’s Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1979). As a lead-in for the channel you couldn’t ask for much more than what Criterion presented, and I had a wonderful time writing about each of these films as they aired to both highlight the channel and what I’d be doing with my patreon. I’m particularly proud of a prose based piece of writing that was published in conjunction with Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970). To this day I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, and in the process I fell in love with Loden as not just a filmmaker and an artist, but as a woman, as I explored her life and dreams in I am Wanda (1980).

Wanda (1970)

When the channel officially launched they did so while highlighting a set of noir films from Columbia Pictures and on the one year anniversary of the Channel they have brought those films back, along with some sister films to expand on the initial mission statement of what the Criterion Channel would offer. One year out, what I remember about the experience of watching most of these films is slipping away into the shadows and haze they offered in the deep dark of quiet nights while being snuggled next to my husband. I fell asleep for brief moments during almost all of these films, but I subscribe to the notion that falling asleep during a movie is a gracenote of a sort: a gift of comfort. But I was taken with some of these films and in particular I strongly remember the proto-Fargo-ness of Jacques Tourneur’s Nightfall (1957), and the way Kim Novak announced herself in her debut performance as Lona MacLane in Pushover (1954). At the time I wrote about Novak’s performance:

She’s seductive, like a drug, and coils around the viewer until you find yourself nodding along to every last thing she’d request or demand, and as a woman, that power is tantalizing. I’d love to be as beautiful as Kim Novak, with an aura around me that was enviable in the way truly beautiful people are. Watching Kim Novak gives one the same feeling of perfectly applying a smokey eye-shadow and the intoxication that comes with artistic femininity.”

Of everything that I’ve watched on the Criterion Channel in the past year the most significant of these viewings had to be when I dove into the collaborations between director Nicola Roeg and actress Theresa Russell. In particular, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Bad Timing (1980) and Insignificance (1985), both of which had an effect on me that could be described as life-changing. Art offers a subjectivity that allows me to wrap myself around certain scenarios and characters with the context of my own life, and as a result film can sometimes act as a model of communicative therapy for myself. In these two films Theresa Russel plays a stylized version of Marilyn Monroe (Insignificance) and the self-destructive Milena (Bad Timing). In both she’s playing these characters that audiences will recognize as corpses before they can be anything else. In Bad Timing, Milena’s cold, grey flesh is shown before any other part of her story and the film works backwards to show how we arrive at the image of death. It’s a familiar one of bad men, and external forces trying to control someone who is doomed to this world. In Bad Timing Theresa Russell’s performance echoes that of Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks. In my essay on Bad Timing I wrote that Russell plays Milena as if she is old before her time and that she’s so very tired of everything. She lights the flame at both ends while drowning in whisky amid all the frustrations of the prodding, shitty men she’s been surrounded by her entire life. I found companionship in the way this character saw the world and the way that Theresa Russell brought her to the screen. I don’t believe I’ll stop thinking about her anytime soon. These films aren’t currently available on the Channel at this time, but they’re both available on DVD through the Criterion Collection.

Insignificance (1985)

Earlier this year my husband and I set out on a quest to watch all of Akira Kurosawa’s films, and it is something that would have been much more difficult to accomplish without the access of the Criterion Channel. To this day, they still have the vast majority of his films on the service, and while we’ve been going through his filmography slowly it has allowed for us to really marinate in what his films have to offer and to watch Kurosawa evolve. He wasn’t the director we all know and love in the beginnings of his career, because he was working under heavier censorship rules and forced to support the Imperialist government of Japan at the time by inserting various bits of propaganda in all of his war-time pictures. The most fascinating aspect of this period of the master’s work is how he smuggled in his own political feelings through a subtle usage of form that he had complete control over by the time of1944’s Sanshiro Sugata Part Two. I wrote about one scene that I found especially startling given the time and conditions of its release:

When Sanshiro fights an American boxer named William Lister a lesser director would have configured this encounter as an us versus them skirmish, but Kurosawa uses it as an opportunity to understand one another through their combat techniques. It’s a masculine interpretation of formed relationships, but one that has ultimately always worked in cinema. Sanshiro watches Lister’s body and Lister does the same. They’re both counter-fighters, and especially in the case of Judo, it’s what the entire martial arts technique is built upon, and when Lister does eventually lunge, Sanshiro catches his arm. Lister tries to wrangle himself free, but Sanshiro steps with him so he can’t wiggle loose. Kurosawa frames this in a wide-shot, and because we can see the entirety of their movement we can see the relationship they have to one another as fighters. While Lister is trying to free himself of Sanshiro’s grip the Judo technician is watching Lister’s feet and when Lister steps in too closely Sanshiro positions his foot so he can use a hip-toss into a throw combination maneuver and win the fight. The Japanese audience cheers and the American audience defeated, but Kurosawa makes the dangerous decision to have Sanshiro help the American man to his feet.”

One of the greatest curatorial strengths of the Criterion Channel thus far has been its ability to showcase specific actors and actresses from Old Hollywood. They currently have a spotlight set on the delightful Rita Hayworth, but in the past they’ve offered up a bounty of features from the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, Gary Cooper, Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck. The actor among those that I focused on first was Barbara Stanwyck. At this time last year I wasn’t very familiar with her body of work or her talents as an actor, but I quickly fell in love with what she does, especially in pre-code films from the likes of William A. Wellman, where it wasn’t strange to see her trading fists with the likes of Clark Gable. I wrote about Stanwyck last year:

Stanwyck has a few trademarks that are consistent throughout all of these films. She’s a master of body language and always perfectly conveys everything her characters mean through the way she carries herself. Frank Capra and William Wellman are good directors, and have numerous films featured in this set on the Criterion Channel, but the draw in these movies, the real author, is Stanwyck. When watching these movies certain patterns emerge. I love the way Barbara Stanwyck walks whenever she’s playing a character who isn’t a Spring daisy. She saunters with her hands in her pockets (POCKETS!). Her hands are hidden away downstairs, her elbows bent, obviously taking up more space, but what impresses me most about the way that she walks is that she doesn’t do so with her hips, but her shoulders. She’s angular. Most women who are movie stars, walk with their hips first. They sway, which emphasizes her form, but the way Stanwyck walks is triangular, uncommon, rare, it’s a subtle statement of star-power and dominance itself. My eyes are drawn to Stanwyck when she walks, because she carries the rest of her body in tune with that movement. Her eyes are steely, squinted, almost in the same way that made Clint Eastwood famous many years later. Cowboy shit. You get the sense that you could hit her with a car and she wouldn’t even move. But I wouldn’t categorize the way she walks as masculine either, because the way she moves doesn’t come with a socialized casualness in the same way men tend to move. She walks in a way that is still very cognizant of her surroundings, as if she’s scheming in her own private thoughts. If I saw Barbara Stanwyck walk into a room I would know immediately that she was someone of importance, because she doesn’t move like anyone else. She moves like Barbara Stanwyck.”

The Night Nurse (1931)

But it was Bette Davis who had the biggest emotional impact on me as a viewer, as critic and as a woman. Now, Voyager (1942) had a palpable, almost life-changing effect on me as I watched Davis’s character struggle to ultimately let go of the past and try to move forward with her own life despite the abuse she had grown up around. What’s so extraordinary about Davis in this role is that even when she does recover you can still see the weight of the past in how she carries herself, how she talks and how she moves. She never lets the character become completely confident of herself, and it is a daring choice on her part, because it would have been easy enough to turn on the fire and embers that she is capable of emitting. Instead, she opts for something softer, reserved, tired, but never at the expense of the euphoria that she feels when the character does ultimately get control of her life. It’s a performance I’ll be thinking about for the rest of my life, and even having only watched the film a month ago I’m ready to return to it, study it and feel it again and again.

There’s all this wound up confidence in Davis, because she knows she can do anything, and delivers as much time and time again. Her work in The Letter (1944), which mostly captured with her back facing the camera is a master-class in how to move ones own body to tell a story. For all the criticism that Davis sometimes gets for being a little too much or a little too explosive and larger than life much of her work strikes me as subtle, or rather, the aspects of her ability and talent that I gravitate towards are things that others don’t seek out as much when thinking about acting. I watch Bette Davis and she makes me want to try out acting. She makes it seem like the most fun anyone could ever have even when you can see all the work she puts into her characters. While watching Davis you can see that she never lost the child-like notion of “play”, and because of that, the time that she does spend with child actors in a film like Now, Voyager feels all the more powerful. After witnessing many of her films through the Criterion Channel I now worship at her altar, and throughout 2020 I have a loose plan to watch many more of her features. I can’t get enough of Bette Davis, and the absolute best thing one can say about the Criterion Channel is that through their curatorial work they will light the spark for others to dive deeper as well. Cinephilia is a mindset of discovery, about people, places, time periods and history, and Criterion’s streaming service is without a doubt the kindest to these principles of learning. It is one of the best things to happen in all of movies in the past year, and now that we are all stuck at home for the foreseeable future it has only illuminated for me further that they are a torch carrier for cinema.

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Courtney Love in The People vs. Larry Flynt

The  image that most people had of Courtney Love in 1995 ran parallel to how she presented herself during the MTV Video Music Awards that same year. She picked fights with Madonna, who claimed Courtney just wanted attention, and  later she flashed her ass to paparazzi on her way out. She was a fuck up  who appeared to be wasted 24/7, but the image of Courtney Love has  always been more complicated than surface level assertions by reporters and papparazzi. That’s been the way with her ever since Vanity Fair published a hit piece on Love  asserting that she did heroin while she was pregnant with her soon to  be daughter, Frances Bean Cobain. No one’s ever really taken the time to  empathize with her and the agony that lay within. That part of her  image, was saved for the stage when Hole performed, “Violet” that evening. 

Courtney  stood there wearing a tattered pink baby doll dress. Her eyeliner  blackened beyond all recognition standing out against her ghostly pale  face. The paleness and her body language in those opening seconds of  silence are haunting. She approaches the microphone and in a droning  voice, she says this one is for Kurt and Kristen and River and all the  other lost souls of the 1990s. She stares out into a sea of people for a  moment before clasping the microphone and glancing downward, pulling  herself up for the performance and all it takes for Courtney to come alive is a few chords. She screams, throws her body around, barely  keeping her voice in tune and scraping against the limits of her lungs and throat like nails on sandpaper. It’s an astoundingly physical performance. After the better part of a year of grieving the one person she loved above all  else, this is a catharsis. She hurts and every single time she screams it echoes out beyond  the veil of a TV screen, begging you to listen to this torrential  release of everything she’d been keeping inside. “Go on take everything”  as if a dare to the world that she’s already been dealt her worst blow,  what else could you possibly do to hurt me? Damaged girls feel seen. During this song she doesn’t seem wasted, but she carries the wounds of the past in her body  and during “Violet” it feels like she may fall apart or combust at any  moment. When the song’s over she drives away at a few repeating chords  and howls “god bless your soul” before hurling her guitar into the drum  kit. There’s a stray image of Courtney caught by the cameras before they  cut to break where she grasps up at her hair with a pained expression on her face. What do you do after the music stops? What can you do when the music isn’t enough? 

Courtney  Love is both these images. She carries that in her persona in  everything she does. The damaged feminine, a tattered angel, someone  with a deep insularity and loneliness because no one’s ever been there  for her without it falling apart. No one ever expected much different from Courtney Love in 1995 other than the rockstar death wish she seemed to carry with herself, but that all  changed for a brief moment when Love become more than just a musician in  Milos Forman’s The People vs. Larry Flynt. 

Courtney  Love had dabbled in acting a bit before performing in Forman’s film,  but it was mostly relegated to side characters in Alex Cox films during  the 1980s where she was given little space to make much of an impact.  This was years before she had created an image of herself as the frontwoman of Hole and been dubbed the Yoko Ono of grunge, by shit-head rock fans who blamed her for the death of her late husband Kurt Cobain.  Courtney Love always wanted to be an actor, but after years of confirmed drug usage and suspected substance abuse in other instances she was a risk to hire. Milos Forman fought for her, because he knew she was perfect for the role of Althea Flynt and had a unique screen presence in her own right. Forman put up one million dollars of his own money to insure that she’d be drug tested and meet the strict guidelines of  Columbia Pictures while the film was being shot. He took a chance on  Courtney Love and it paid off.

In a way  Courtney Love was made to play Althea Flynt, because Althea and  Courtney lived similar lives. They both had trouble in their upbringing  from abusive parental situations and went in and out of foster homes until they decided to strike out on their own in an uncaring world. They  both lit the flame at both ends in their work and home-life and both were brilliant at what they did. By not so secretly coding the Althea  Flynt character as a veiled version of Courtney Love it allowed Courtney  to inject her own real life personae, built upon anarchic femininity, into the character.  The type of acting that’s built by creating a  unique personae is extremely difficult to maintain and while old Hollywood was built upon the strength of all the greats who understood their own brand and how to convey that outwards in an appealing and  seductive manner it wasn’t nearly as ripe in the 1990s. MTV fundamentally changed how we perceived screen stars with the advent of the music video which allowed for musical artists such as Madonna and Prince to become the new screen legends of their time. When you take the  MTV model and apply it to rock music iconography and status built upon  controversy, such as the case with Courtney Love, it hitches the  performance to a set of expectations one can expect. It was shrewd casting on Forman’s part to crystallize this notion into a movie which  tapped into everything that made Courtney Love a dangerous, seductive,  damaged force of womanhood in the mainstream. That Courtney got to funnel all of this into her character and play off Woody Harrelson’s  portrait of Larry Flynt as a walking talking middle finger was an added  bonus. Love and Harrelson are mesmerizing to watch, because they  shouldn’t be lead actors. They’re too weird, too specific, and in Love’s case too prone to explosiveness in her own life, but then Althea and  Larry shouldn’t have been iconic public figures either.

The first time we see Courtney Love in The People vs. Larry Flynt she’s  stripping in Larry’s club, and shoving her ass into the camera, just like at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards. It’s an inauspicious debut for her in mainstream movies, but it’s also totally her. You don’t get the sense that she’s a special actor until the following scene when Althea and Larry discuss the legality of her stripping in his club due to her being underage. They have immediate chemistry and unlike her stripping,  which is purposefully robotic and unsure, her seduction of Larry in his own office is another story. She has him in the palm of his hand, making sure to lean into her own sexuality, words slipping out of her mouth like crushed velvet and gesturing to Larry that she’ll be legal “just like that, in one second” before snapping her fingers. She has him,  completely and then she asks him a question: “if he ever fucks the girls in the club?” and that’s enough for Larry. He’s done for. In this scene Courtney Love completely overwhelms Woody Harrelson, which is exactly the point. Woody has the hyper-flustered body language of someone with an erection under his desk and Courtney plays the room with the knowledge that by making him feel that way she’d be in complete control.  Courtney Love would usually play the guitar with one leg hiked up on an amplifier in a power stance. She didn’t care if you could see up her  dress. She was putting her foot down that she owned this room and if you  looked it’s because she wanted you to. She brings that to Althea who  goes from merely getting Larry hard to marrying him in no time flat. She gets what she wants. She falls in love easy, but you get the sense that she wanted that to happen too.

In these opening  scenes between Althea and Larry Courtney Love’s image as a rock star and a fuck-up that we’re more familiar with isn’t used in her technique, but she does so later. It’s light and day between the confident, boisterous, powerful woman we see running Hustler magazine along with Larry Flynt and the addict Althea would become later in the film. Both parts of Courtney’s image are used in The People vs. Larry Flynt,  because the rise and fall structure of biopics is perfect for rock-stars  who live floating on the ether of both at all times, and in Love’s case  she does so with the amplifiers cranked up to eleven. The difference in her physical stature when Althea slips into drug usage as a side  effect of Larry’s paralysis after a failed assassination attempt is  staggering. Courtney Love becomes the Courtney Love we all know well,  albeit one with black hair instead of her usual blonde. In court-rooms she laughs inappropriately, becoming child-like and seconds later  vulgar. She can’t keep herself up on two feet and stumbles, shifting her  body language to that of a wrecking ball. She did the same things when  trying to interrupt Madonna’s interview at the ’95 VMA’s. Courtney Love  finds that part of herself and weaponizes it in the performance which blurs the line between reality and fiction in Althea. By contrast,  Harrelson opts for a transformative angle, changing the cadence of his speech and his own physicality when Larry becomes bound to a wheelchair.  Woody’s choices are big, and Courtney’s introspective ones meld into a relationship that feels lived in and dynamic and as a fan of acting it is exciting to watch, because they’re working in completely separate modes, and both are doing it so well. 

No one really expected Courtney Love to survive the 1990s. Everyone just  assumed she’d go the way of Kurt one of these days and opt for oblivion  instead of perseverance so the final image of Althea having drowned in a  bathtub is a startling one, because it’s an image that could have been real in Courtney Love’s own life. Because Courtney Love opted to create Althea as an extension to herself this final image, becomes shocking and unnerving. The  blurring of reality and fiction between Courtney Love and Althea forces that image to reach deeper, beyond the movie and become contextually relevant to Love’s own public and artistic image as a tortured woman martyr. No such model for who Courtney Love was had ever happened before in rock music, and the typical ending of rockstars going out before their time, for Love, only ever happens in The People vs. Larry Flynt. The most shockingly brilliant thing about Courtney Love’s performance is that she changed her image, by using every last bit of what people thought of her before burning it to ash as Althea Flynt. She opts to  survive. She only died in fiction. 

originally posted 11/26/2018
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His Motorbike, Her Island (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1986)

Here Comes the Rain Again,

Falling on my Head, Like a Memory”

Annie Lennox

We’re never really alone. We can feel it on our skin. A presence gently announcing itself or tussling our hair like an older sibling might do. She’s always there, underneath the beating heart of the sun and the soft bed of the sky. Like a human, she’ll shift and evolve, curve and break on the edges of bodies. Looking for the wind becomes less of a quest and closer to a prayer that the Earth is still breathing upon her children. She knows every last one of us, has touched the soul of every child who can feel her, or hear her, just outside the realm of visibility. Even if we’re gone, she’ll still sing, still gust with stories of everyone she met as a natural goddess of Earth. She’ll bend for eternity, but she’ll never break under the weight of all her lost children.  

I’m looking for the wind, and then I’m going to take a nap”
Ko  

Ko (Riki Takeuchi) drives a motorbike and dreams in monochrome. He wears a leather jacket, a white t-shirt, denim, of course, and brown riding boots. A uniform for the free man. He’s restless, looking for something more than life can offer him, but he’s not the kind of man who would say he needs an anchor in life or something to push his narrative forward. All he needs is a stiff kick, and the loud crack of an engine giving way to the next chapter in his life. Whatever happens will happen, and he’s carefree in that belief. It’s easy to fall for a guy like him, with his abs, cocky smile and his allegiance to the road. A woman could only ever be third place for Ko after his bike and after pavement. She might believe her truest task is convincing him that she’d offer more depth than the unpredictability of whatever may come out of the curve, with the wind by his side, but she’d be wrong. It’s why men give things like bikes she/her pronouns. Ko’s already married to the wind, and he has a relationship with her that doesn’t require responsibility, only trust, that she’d be behind his back and on his flesh as he blares off into the distance, where only sound would remain for women who’d look on.  

Miyo (Kiwako Harada) is a surprise coming out of a curve. Ko falls for her instantly in that way characters in movies do. On the surface she’s perfect. She takes pictures, keeps her eyes open to whatever life may throw at her, and listens to what comes ahead. She’s in love with his motorbike, a Kawasaki. She notes that Ko has the same name as his bike, like they’re made for each other, and she wants to ride. She wants to be his. It’d maybe be more truthful to say that she wants what Ko has: the wind. Like the wind, she becomes soft, barely there, but still present in Ko’s memory. She flashes back in when the two wild at heart kids run into each other, as if by fate. And, because this is a movie, the opening title card states as bluntly, they’re pulled toward each other. They’ll remember each other forever, and their time on the island, on the road, will echo into eternity.  

Director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s insistence to shoot the romantic sequences and the more important moments of the film in monochrome, which bends into colour, functions like memory. We want to remember certain memories as perfect, as cinematic as possible. It doesn’t matter if that’s how they actually happened, because the memory of how we remembered it is definitive. A picture can lie, because it can’t mutate or evolve with time, but memory bends to context and emotion. It can have jump-cuts, moments where music swells, and sequences where the world only belongs to you. The road is kind of like that too. You can soundtrack it to whatever music you’d like in your car or on your bike or in your heart. Each passing town or house or inch of pavement can open up a new chapter in your life. You don’t even have to know where you’re going, because the road will point you in the right direction. When Ko and Miyo start riding motorbikes together they drift apart when one takes a new intersection, but always circle back to one another when the road meets again. They swerve in and out of one another on completely abandoned highways. It may have not happened like that exactly, but film isn’t a place for realism and neither is memory. They dart back and forth between one another like a metaphor for two people truly in love. She was him. He was her. They both lived behind the wind, pulled into one image. Even if life has a way of pulling someone out of perfection and into a back-highway of desolation you can still rest easy knowing that you and perfection will always be back then. In Clint Eastwood’s, A Perfect World (1993), there’s a short monologue about cars being time machines. Everything in front of you is the future, and everything in that rear-view mirror is the past. Maybe this is why we make movies about cars, about motorbikes, about love.  

originally published 06/27/2019
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Three Short Films to Watch from SXSW

Symbiosis

The South by Southwest Film Festival was cancelled this year, and left many filmmakers without an outlet to showcase their films. Devastating would likely be an understatement for these budding filmmakers and veterans who depend on something like SXSW to further push their films out into the world. With the recent loss of this film festival and many others the eyes of the film world have turned to streaming and that is indeed where we find ourselves with the batch of short films that were going to play at SXSW. Below, I take a look at three short films that were slated for the festival that I think are well worth your time. The entire crop of short films can be found at mailchimp.

Nadja Andrasev’s short film Symbiosis mixes 2D animation, collage and photographs that recalls the exceptional work of surrealist animation legend Suzan Pitt. Symbiosis follows a young woman investigating the trysts that her partner is having with other women, but her jealousy quickly evolves into a curiosity about bodies, objects, and sex. Andrasev’s style is dreamy and melancholic with a real focus and detail rendered in how she emphasizes touch through the eroticism of her characters. She’ll frequently loop images into one another to create a fluidity that feels inherently sexual, like a flower blossoming. Instead of using traditional cutting methods her images are more likely to bleed into one another and transform, much as her character does, and the resulting effect is a beautiful work that completely understands how to evoke the mindset of the central character. Of all the short films I watched from SXSW, this one is my favourite.

Broken Bird

Rachel Harrison Gordon’s Broken Bird follows a bi-racial Jewish girl at the precipice of deep change. She’s prepping for her Bat Mitzvah, but ultimately trying to figure out what that means for her as someone who is bi-racial, and in addition to that she is navigating the difficult waters of comprehending where she stands in the two cultures that rest inside of her. There’s the Star of David around her neck, but she also loves deep diving into her father’s record collection which houses classics from the likes of artists like Donna Summer and Jimi Hendrix. Gordon shoots much of her short film in loving close-ups and even at the brisk running time of about ten minutes she gracefully illuminates the colliding worlds that rest inside of this teenage girl. Stay for the end credits, when she makes the world her own through dance, and reshapes the bat mitzvah on her own terms.

Zoe and Hanh

Kim Tran wrote, directed and starred in this short film about a young woman and the difficult relationship she has with her mother in the wake of her father’s death. Tran shoots exceptionally close to her actors, including herself, and by doing so, creates a space for these relationships to collide off of one another without distance. This short film slowly unpeels the layers of her complicated relationship through dialogue and then through conflict, but does so in a breezy sort of conversational sense that allows the actors to do much of the heavy lifting. Trans also isn’t petrified to get into murkier territory and complicate these relationships by not giving them resolution or happy endings. Zoe and Hanh is a movie that begins and ends in medias-res with little solved between mother and daughter. In fact the relationship may even be fractured beyond repair, and it takes guts to offer up that moment as the one of relative importance, instead of the ambivalent, quiet solutions that have occupied much of American independent cinema in the previous decade. I left this one wondering where these two characters would go from here, and it’s the only short film from the SXSW group that I believe would benefit from a feature-length run-time.