Secret Sunshine, Nuremberg, The Illusionist
One of 2010's best films, Lee Chang-dong's rending, hyperventilating follow-up to 2002's Oasis focuses on Shin-ae (Jeon Do-yeon), a willowy, not-too-pretty young mother relocating to the obscure burg her dead husband came from, for obscure reasons. Reserved and cagey, Shin-ae herself remains a mystery, as she resists the gang-press of gossipy neighbors and over-friendly men (including congenial mechanic Song Kang-ho), plays with her headstrong grade-school son, and sets up a storefront piano school. Her unsettled life, and the mellow rhythms of the film, get scorched when her boy is kidnapped and then found dead, launching Shin-ae into a cascade of walking death, beatific Christian born-again-ness, leveling disillusionment (she decides to "forgive" the imprisoned killer in person, never a good idea), and self-destruction. Like a twisted sister to Rabbit Hole, Secret Sunshine doesn't just posit grief but probes the hidden biology of it, like a parasite slowly chewing up its host from the inside. Lee makes lengthy, expansive, unpredictable movies always gripped by emotional tribulation, and the red-eyed Jeon, landing a Best Actress at Cannes in 2007 and unforgettable as well in The Housemaid, goes to hell and back. —Michael Atkinson
Delivering the news in the late 1940s that Universal Pictures would not release Stuart Schulberg's documentary about the 1945–1946 Nuremberg trials of 22 senior Nazi officers, the company's PR flack explained to the film's producers that "the subject matter and the way it is treated is altogether too gruesome to stomach." But now that we are up to our necks in Holocaust iconography, are we unshockable? Does the release of a remastered Nuremberg, 60 years after the trial, add to the uncomfortable sense that we all may be perpetuating genocide porn? Certainly it adds to our growing desensitization, though it's clear that was not the intention of Schulberg's daughter, Sandra, and Josh Waletzky, who supervised a painstaking restoration for the film's first theatrical release in North American theaters. (Sandra Schulberg will be in attendance at the Lagoon Cinema's screenings on Friday and Saturday.) With sober narration by Liev Schreiber, Nuremberg is clearly a labor of love and posthumous restitution to the Schulberg brothers (Stuart's famous sibling, Budd, was involved in the filmmaking as well). The new film's most notable achievement is a refreshed soundtrack that allows us to actually hear the defendants' translated testimony, a tawdry ragbag of defiance, denial, rationalization, Hitler-blame, and mutual betrayal. Also newly audible are American prosecutor Justice Robert H. Jackson's stirring addresses: "Let Nuremberg stand as a warning to all who plan and wage aggressive war," he said. If there's a takeaway for audiences today, it's a sad one of lessons ignored or flouted after half a century of global mass murder. —Ella Taylor
Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist breathes life into a celluloid fossil, lovingly animating an unproduced script by the great filmmaker Jacques Tati. Chomet sets The Illusionist on the cusp of the '60s, around the time Tati wrote the script as a follow-up to his hit Mon Oncle. The title character, a middle-aged, itinerant stage magician—given a vaguely aristocratic mien, as well as Tati's actual name, Tatischeff—is introduced with a series of mildly disastrous performances in Paris (where he is compelled to play straight man to his obstreperous rabbit) and London (sharing the bill with an obnoxious quartet of proto-Beatles mop tops). The magician gives his most appreciated performance in some back-of-beyond Scottish pub. When he leaves for Edinburgh, the bar's naive young slavey, an unprepossessing slip of a girl named Alice, tags along, convinced that his conjuring tricks really are magic. At once recognizable and improbable, sketchy and detailed, Edinburgh is, the illusionist aside, Chomet's main character. Tatischeff and Alice move into a hotel full of depressed circus types and separately explore a city populated by cheerful drunks. Alice longs for new, grown-up clothes and, as if by magic, the illusionist provides them. (Unknown to her, he's been working nights for extra money.) No less impressive than Chomet's character animation is his sense of timing. For its 80 minutes, the movie creates the illusion that not just Tati but his form of cerebral slapstick lives. —J. Hoberman
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