The Movie Club

Antonioni, Bergman … Fincher?

Mark Ruffalo in Zodiac

Dear Wesley, Nathan, and Scott,

In a year in which we lost Bergman and Antonioni on the same day, it’s tempting to make solemn end-of-year proclamations about the sun setting on a certain kind of cinema: films that are philosophically ambitious to the point of grandiosity and defiantly uneager to please. But there was nothing unambitious or crepuscular about 2007, a year that brought new films from old masters like Béla Tarr and Manoel de Oliveira and Sidney Lumet, along with great work by artists in their prime: There Will Be Blood and Eastern Promises and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (which I notice none of us but me placed on their 10-best list: What gives?).

But there’s one sense in which the age of Antonioni and Bergman truly has passed: Like everything else in the cultural field, art cinema now has to squeak a lot louder in order to get its wheels greased. Even for a movie critic living in a cultural capital, it’s hard to catch all the small, underpromoted independent and foreign films that flash past. The one week Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth played in New York coincided with my first real vacation in three years, so I missed that stripped-down tale of life in a Lisbon slum. Apichtapong Weerasethakul’s fabulous-sounding Syndromes and a Century similarly passed me by. (Though I did get a chance to write on the exciting debut of another young Thai director, Wisit Sasanatieng’s hallucinatory Western Tears of the Black Tiger. Any of y’all catch that postmodern nut-out?)

By way of instigating a polemic, I want one, or all, of you to make a case for Zodiac as a film that will stand “after most of 2007’s supposed ‘best’ pictures have been consigned to the historical dustbin”(that’s your list speaking, Scott), and for the career of David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club) in general. I notice all three of you have Zodiac on your 10-best list for the year, and, much as I admired Fincher’s muscular storytelling (and Mark Ruffalo’s muscular, er, Mark Ruffalo), there was something rushed and truncated about the movie, even at two and a half hours. David Fincher has always seemed like a niche director to me, an expert spelunker into remote corners of the male psyche who never brings back quite enough from his travels to justify the descent. While I agree Zodiac is his finest film yet (and, as Wesley observed, a welcome antidote to the glitzy sadism of Se7en), I guess I still need to be schooled in the ways of Fincher love. And while you’re at it, tell me, is the new director’s cut on DVD that much better?

And with all apologies, allow me to broach the ever-queasy topic of what Nathan’s list labeled the “worst official trend of the year”: abortion. Between 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days; Knocked Up; Juno; Waitress; and Lake of Fire, you couldn’t swing a cat in 2007 without hitting an unwanted fetus. Why is this a subject that, however overrepresented, remains strangely invisible in Hollywood (with 4 Months and Lake of Fire functioning as bluntly confrontational correctives to that trend?). Everyone seems to agree that Juno was less timid in its treatment of the shma-word than Knocked Up, but as I recall, the most plausible explanation as to why Ellen Page fled that Planned Parenthood clinic had to do with the Christian protester outside (an Asian-American classmate of Juno’s) who pointed out that the baby-to-be already had fingernails. This image alone—along with a grubby waiting room and some water-stained magazines—was enough to propel Juno out the door and into the arms of a nice adoptive family. Is the right to privacy now the constitutional freedom that, on-screen at least, dare not speak its name?

Nathan, take it away. And a Happy New Year to you all.