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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Criterion Collection New Releases February 2022

In February, Criterion is adding to their well-regarded collection a pair of romance and melodrama. Leo McCarey's beautifully told, Love Affair and Douglas Sirk's highly charged Written on the Wind. Criterion is also adding the Coen brothers' Prohibition-era gangster saga, Miller's Crossing; and Ann Hui's heartrending, humanist look at the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Boat People. That's about as eclectic a group of classics the prestige vendor has ever gathered.

I don't who at Criterion decides which films get their special attention, but I'm always struck by the broad range of the monthly groupings. Sometimes there seems to be a connection between selections, but if you examine each film a bit deeper, then you'll see how very different they really are. Take Love Affair and Written on the Wind for example. Both are dramas about love and longing, and the obstacles needed to overcome in order to reach a satisfying ending. However, directors Leo McCarey and Douglas Sirk have extremely different approaches that garner on screen results that couldn't be more decisively unique.

McCarey is a master at handling the romantic comedy, (or rom/com as we know the genre today), but Love Affair can not be placed in such a category. There is a light-hearted seriousness, but unlike his other films the serious aspects of the story ultimately overcome the amusing levity until it develops into a truly touching depiction of deep devotion. Douglas Sirk, on the other hand, is known for an over dramatic presentation of desperate hearts that recklessly pursue their desires without consideration for the hurtful devastation they leave in their wake. HIs films have happy endings, but always at a cost.

Then theres Miller's Crossing and Boat People. There's no question these two films are not only at poler opposites from each other, but also of the two films already mentioned. Although the Coen Brothers are usually associated with lighter fare, Miller's Crossing is a brutal depiction of Irish immigrant gangsters. It is an earlier film by the siblings that many may struggle to recall, and is often forgotten as it sits between two of their greatest comedies, Raising Arizona and Barton Fink. Having never seen Blood Simple, my introduction to the movie making team was Raising Arizona first. So, I was most certainly caught off guard by the far more serious releases that followed. That probably effected my initial appreciation for the film, so be forewarned if you haven't seen it before.

I can not remark on Boat People directly, as I have never seen it. However, it is clear by its subject matter that you. would not find it the same section of the video store as the others (if you even remember what a video store is). The 1982 production is about a Japanese photojournalist who revisits Vietnam after the Liberation and learns harsh truths about its regime. Political in theme and violent by nature, Boat People is a film of its time, made by a director with something to say about the state of the world surrounding her. I don't think it could be much more different than Love Story, Written on the Wind, and Miller's Crossing. Official descriptions for each film follows.

Love Affair comes from the Golden-age of Hollywood’s humanist master Leo McCarey. He brings his graceful touch and relaxed naturalism to this sublime romance, one of cinema’s most intoxicating tear-wringers. Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer are chic strangers who meet and fall in love aboard an ocean liner bound for New York. Though they are both involved with other people, they make a pact to reconnect six months later at the top of the Empire State Building—until the hand of fate throws their star-crossed affair tragically off course. Swooning passion and gentle comedy coexist in perfect harmony in the exquisitely tender Love Affair (nominated for six Oscars), a story so timeless that it has been remade by multiple filmmakers over the years—including McCarey himself, who updated it as the equally beloved An Affair to Remember.

Douglas Sirk’s Technicolor expressionism reached a fever pitch with the operatic tragedy, Written on the Wind. The director pushes his florid visuals and his critiques of American culture to their subversive extremes. Alcoholism, nymphomania, impotence, and deadly jealousy—these are just some of the toxins coursing through a massively wealthy, degenerate Texan oil family. When a sensible secretary (Lauren Bacall) has the misfortune of marrying the clan’s neurotic scion (Robert Stack), it drives a wedge between him and his lifelong best friend (Rock Hudson) that unleashes a maelstrom of psychosexual angst and fury. Featuring an unforgettably debauched, Oscar-winning supporting performance by Dorothy Malone and some of Sirk’s most eye-popping mise-en-scène, Written on the Wind is as perverse a family portrait as has ever been splashed across the screen.

Miller's Crossing is a "Roaring Twenties" gangster saga that only the Coen brothers could concoct. The. film marries the hard-boiled sensibility of classic noir fiction with the filmmakers’ trademark savory dialogue, colorful characters, and finely calibrated set pieces. Gabriel Byrne brings a wry gravitas to the role of Tom Reagan, the quick-thinking right-hand man to a powerful crime boss (Albert Finney), whose unflappable cool is tested when he begins offering his services to a rival outfit—setting off a cascade of betrayals, reprisals, and increasingly berserk violence. The "Hopperesque" visuals of cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, majestically elegiac score by Carter Burwell, and vivid supporting performances from John Turturro and Marcia Gay Harden come together in an intricately constructed slice of pulp perfection that crackles with sardonic wit while plumbing existential questions about free will and our own terrifying capacity for evil.

Boat People is one of the preeminent works of the Hong Kong New Wave. It is a shattering look at the circumstances that drove hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees to flee their homeland in the wake of the Vietnam War, told through images of haunting, unforgettable power. Three years after the Communist takeover, a Japanese photojournalist (George Lam) travels to Vietnam to document the country’s seemingly triumphant rebirth. When he befriends a teenage girl (Season Ma) and her destitute family, however, he begins to discover what the government doesn’t want him to see: the brutal, often shocking reality of life in a country where political repression and poverty have forced many to resort to desperate measures in order to survive. Transcending polemic, renowned director Ann Hui takes a deeply humanistic approach to a harrowing and urgent subject with searing contemporary resonance.

There are your four Criterion additions for the month of February in 2022. Another four will be landing next month with just as much diversity as the films you see here. So, if none of these spark your fancy, don't worry. Another will be along next month, or the month after that.


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