I smell something of the John Stewart/Jim Cramer debate emerging out of this weekends spat between New York Times critic A.O. Scott and The New Yorker’s Richard Brody regarding what Scott refers to as a Neo-neo-realism, present in the films of Raming Bahrani (Goodbye Solo, Chop Shop) Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Old Joy), Lance Hammer (Ballast), So Yong Kim (Treeless Mountain) as well as Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Sugar). Scott argues in an article published over the weekend in NY Times Magazine, that we’re in something of a crystalline moment for this kind of cinema, films that he suggests ” illuminate (lives) of fictional characters most often played by non-actors from similar backgrounds, are not commonly depicted on screen.” Brody more broadly characterizes Scott’s argument as recognizing films that are “made on location in diverse American locations, about working-class characters, sometimes using non-professional actors.”
Brody outlines his own contentions with Scott’s assessment, going one step further by suggesting that these types of films have existed a wider array of American films over the years, but counters that what we’re experiencing is “in effect, granola cinema, abstemious films that are made to look good for you but are no less sweetened than mass-market products, that cut off a wide range of aesthetic possibilities and experiences on ostensible grounds of virtue.” Scott defends himself on his own blog.
What neither of these critics acknowledges in this debate however, and is perhaps at least evident in some of the films Scott mentions, is that cinema, like art, and commerce, exists more than ever on a global scale and in global conversations. I’d like to suggest that works like Goodbye Solo and Treeless Mountain are as much a part of a global conversation as a national one. And realizing that, I would urge these critics and you to look at the films of Lisandro Alonso, Lee Isaac Chung’s Munyurangabo, or Ulrich Seidl’s Import Export, which all employ similar strategies; one might note that all also except Munyurangabo, lack US distribution. Stategies that were also employed by Rosselini, deSica and the like, but that I would contend say something more about the current global film ecology than about our own. These critics seem content to continue to believe that domestic US cinema exists in some sort of bubble, that for example the mumblecore films are somehow only evident in the US, when infact much of the Dogme95 films post-Denmark employed similar techniques.
As critics who clearly see work outside of the traditional US festival and theatrical markets, perhaps I should expect more from them. However since they’re writing for an American audience who is deprived of so much of the great world cinema created in any given year, I can also forgive them. More importantly, its to these films and the filmmakers credit that they seem less self obsessed than our own culture, the mumblecore films, or Dogme 95.