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EDITORIALS | AUGUST 25, 2020
Recommendations from the Margin, Volume 1
by Micah Levine

Our partner organization, Films from the Margin, operates to put on display a showcasing of films “from the margin,” often works that are difficult to find, lesser known, and considered hidden gems. From world famous filmmakers’ smaller, maybe earlier work to a surprising foreign marvel, Films from the Margin aspires to educate and inform viewers of cinematic treasures otherwise hidden by an immeasurable sea of content, while providing hours of gutsy, unique, unforgettable entertainment. This bi-monthly column will feature recommendations of films otherwise considered to be “from the margin,” as well as where one can locate them. For more information on Films from the Margin and how to get involved, drop us a line at filmsfromthemargin.ec@gmail.com.

            Le Quattro Volte (2010, Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy)

            At a quick, gentle 88 minutes, Le Quattro Volte, translated as “The Four Times,” is reasonably dense. The layered tale, screened as part of 2010’s Directors’ Fortnight at that year’s Cannes, begins with a dying goatherd and ends with smoking charcoal, shown to the viewer as the same single entity from start to finish. How? Mr. Frammartino’s enigmatic, haunting film depicts the Pythagorean idea of the migration of the soul from the human realm, to the animal, the plant, and lastly the mineral realm. It is the work of Greek philosopher Pythagoras, said to have lived four lives, that writer/director Mr. Frammartino bases his stunning tale of metempsychosis on, spending just the right amount of time focusing on each phase of reincarnation until the cycle completes itself and repeats. The film’s complete lack of dialogue, in addition to its mature, inaccessible plot structure, is enough to steer away the common moviegoer, but Le Quattro Volte never fails to captivate the eyes and the mind with its sumptuous visuals and fascinating morals. Writing for The Independent, Jonathan Romney notes that Le Quattro Volte is “one of those rare films that anyone could enjoy, whether or not they normally care for slow Italian art cinema.” I couldn’t have put it any better: Le Quattro Volte upends expectations and quietly, subtly, gorgeously says so much, without saying one word at all. This film can be found streaming on Kanopy, is rentable on KinoNow, and is available to own on Blu-ray and DVD at kinolorber.com.

            Je, Tu, Il, Elle (1974, Chantal Akerman, Belgium/France)

            “’Je’ is the girl voluntarily locked in a room. ‘Tu’ is the script. ‘Il’ is a lorry driver. ‘Elle’ is the girlfriend.” This, the official tagline, is all one needs to know prior to viewing Chantal Akerman’s crushing, eye-opening debut feature film she wrote, produced, directed and starred in. With its gorgeously nostalgic black & white photography that evokes memories of youthful woes, Je, Tu, Il, Elle’s lack of notoriety shocks me, considering its importance within Ms. Akerman’s canon—most notably, in that this film sets up her next film, the jaw-dropping, infamous Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. Je, Tu, Il, Elle is broken into three sections: The first, focusing on Ms. Akerman’s Julie suffering from an apparent depressive episode, writing letters and eating copious amounts of powdered sugar, while lifelessly lounging around in the nude; the second, focusing on Julie leaving her apartment for the first time in ages, getting picked up by a truck driver and trading stories of love affairs and past troubles; the third, focusing on Julie meeting with a young woman – presumably an ex-girlfriend – who engages in an extended, provocative sex scene that closes the movie. A minimalist, audacious exploration of the inner machinations of a depressed young woman in her 20s, Je, Tu, Il, Elle is a starkly underrated gem in Ms. Akerman’s decades-long career, a fashionably relatable ode to an arrested development so commonly faced. Before Sofia Coppola’s contemporary sighs of youthful anxt, there was Je, Tu, Il, Elle, an unforgettably affective humanist drama that many can enjoy. Just realize: You will never look at powdered sugar the same. This film can be found streaming on the Criterion Channel, and is available to own on DVD (as part of Criterion’s Chantal Akerman in the Seventies box set) at criterion.com.

            Betty Tells Her Story (1972, Liane Brandon, United States)

            This magnificent short film is an exciting, wholly original experiment in (rather literal) storytelling. Director Liane Brandon sets her camera down in front of the lovely Betty, an aging, heavyset woman with a heart of gold, and asks her to tell her story of finding the “perfect dress.” The first telling is rather comical, a humorous incident over which both Betty and Ms. Brandon laugh and bond. Ms. Brandon occasionally zooms her camera tight on Betty’s face, engaging the audience from start to finish, as though the viewer, themself, is sitting in Ms. Brandon’s seat. About halfway through the short film, Betty finishes her story, and Ms. Brandon asks her to tell it again. No apparent direction, only a simple intertitle: “Later that day, the filmmaker asked Betty to tell her story again.” This second pass, however, was a much more somber retelling, as Betty’s underlying emotions emerge to the forefront. Suddenly, Betty Tells Her Story is an emotional piece on women’s beauty standards and self-worth, and Ms. Brandon does a superb job in capturing Betty’s poignancy with just zooms.  Betty Tells Her Story is a moving, sentimental work on fashion, appearance and beauty, while operating as a unique narrative experiment. Today, Ms. Brandon is a Professor Emerita of University of Massachusetts Amherst, whose work has been featured in museums and festivals alike. This film can be found streaming on the Criterion Channel as well as on Kanopy, and can be purchased/rented from newday.com.