Each month, the Paste staff brings you a look at the best new selections from The Criterion Collection. Much beloved by casual fans and cinephiles alike, The Criterion Collection has for over three decades presented special editions of important classic and contemporary films. You can explore the complete collection here. In the meantime, here are our top picks for the month of June:
Jean Renoir Year:
If there’s anything about La Chienne that could use tweaking, it’s the ending, or the endings, which occur in a procession of climaxes and resolutions that each trick you into thinking the film is about to end. Most films, even very good ones, could stand to be a few minutes longer. La Chienne could stand to be a few minutes shorter. Let’s be fair, though: La Chienne is the second sound film of Renoir’s career, the first being On purge bébé, a 46-minute comedy about a constipated baby, made five years after the commercial failure of 1926’s Nana. He made other films between Nana and La Chienne, but La Chienne feels like an essential component of his recovery post-Nana and a testament to his mastery of craft. It took him only two movies to get the swing of sound as an element of cinema, though La Chienne employs it so skillfully you’ll be gulled into thinking he’d been making sound films for years beforehand.
La Chienne is a beautifully made (if protracted) film about horrible, ugly people, a story of jealousy, greed and deceit that’s shot with the incomparable skill of one of the medium’s true legends. It’s a snapshot of Renoir’s movie history, the moment when Renoir truly became Renoir. By extension it’s also a snapshot of the whole medium’s history, an example of how sound can change a picture, and a lesson in film school well worth attending. —Andy Crump
Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Stanley Kubrick Year:
If there were anything to potentially criticize about Stanley Kubrick, it might be his overly serious, literal approach to filmmaking. Even the beloved Pauline Kael had pointed words about this aspect of the great director. But that accusation would only really ring true if you leave out Dr. Strangelove from his body of work. Made in 1964 and, unfortunately, unseen by many moviegoers today, the film proves Kubrick was far from a one-trick pony in terms of style and genre. Featuring Peter Sellers in the three lead roles, the film both parodies and satirizes Cold War anxiety through a smart, hilarious plot about a hydrogen bomb getting in the wrong hands. Everything about Dr. Strangelove still holds up today, from the razor-sharp script to the absurd physical comedy to its subversive anti-war notions, making it even more deserving of this new Criterion release. —David Roark
René Laloux Year:
It doesn’t matter if you’re watching René Laloux’s excellent, eccentric Fantastic Planet for the first time or the fortieth, under the influence or stone sober: The film is such a one-of-a-kind oddity in cinema that each viewing feels like its own wholly unique experience. Put simply, there’s nothing quite like it. If you’ve yet to see this masterwork of 1970s psychedelia-meets-social-commentary, you’re missing out. If you have seen it, chances are you haven’t seen anything quite like it since, because there isn’t much in animated cinema to match it. The closest you’ll get is Terry Gilliam’s paper strip animation stylings in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, or maybe the still painting approach of Eiji Yamamoto’s Belladonna of Sadness. Neither of these equate with Fantastic Planet’s visual scheme, though, which just underscores its individuality.
Where does a movie like Fantastic Planet come from? How does it even get made? Laloux offers few answers to these questions in the supplementals of the film’s Criterion Blu-ray release; the documentary Laloux Sauvage is worth investing in just to gain some insight into how his mind works. But maybe the answers aren’t worth pursuing in the first place, and maybe the best way to understand Fantastic Planet is just to watch it—and then watch it again. —A.C.
Clouds of Sils Maria
Olivier Assayas Year:
“The text is like an object,” Kristen Stewart tells Juliette Binoche partway through Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria. “It’s going to change perspective based on where you’re standing.” Take out that one line of dialogue and you alter the meaning and the evocative power of the entire film—it doesn’t become worse, but it does lose its interpretive richness. Is Clouds of Sils Maria about the dumbing down of cinema as art? Is it about the endless generational strife that divides the old from the young? Is it about the vanity of its protagonist, Maria Enders (Binoche), versus the vapidity of her competition, Jo Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz)? Or is it a narrative built explicitly to engage with the functions and mechanisms of narrative itself? The film is as heady as you want it to be, and you’ll read out of it what you bring into it. That’s never going to change. But if you want to see Clouds of Sils Maria from different views, you might want to take a glance at the Criterion Blu-ray’s extras, particularly interviews with Stewart and Binoche, who both go into the tank discussing their characters, shooting the film, and the ways they relate personally to Clouds’ various crises. —A.C.