Best of Criterion’s New Releases, April 2018

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Best of Criterion’s New Releases, April 2018

Each month, Paste brings you a look at the best new selections from the Criterion Collection. Much beloved by casual fans and cinephiles alike, Criterion has for over three decades presented special editions of important classic and contemporary films. You can explore the complete collection here. In the meantime, because chances are you may be looking for something to give the discerning (raises pinkie) cinephile this month, find all of our Criterion picks here, and check out some of our top titles this April:

The Color of Pomegranates


Year: 1969
Director: Sergei Parajanov
However you confront Sergei Parajanov’s hypnotic, dazzling, puzzling avant-garde retelling of Armenian poet Sayat Nova’s life, you can’t call it a traditional biopic. Instead of threading a series of important moments, Parajanov deliberately sidesteps any conventional narrative norms and conveys the essence of the poet’s work through performance art-like pastiches. Despite one’s affinity or tolerance for experimental cinema, it’s hard to dismiss the film’s inherent beauty and soulful expression of life. Its context will most likely elude you at first, but that lack of knowledge doesn’t distract from the evocative imagery. If you stick with it, watch film critic Tony Rayns’ commentary, which decodes how each image and symbol relates to both details from Sayat Nova’s life and Armenia’s painful history, as well as the many interviews and visual essays found on the Criterion release to get a clearer picture. On the other hand, the beauty of a film like The Color of Pomegranates is in its capturing of a revolutionarily unique form of visual storytelling, able to create entirely different experiences within each viewer; perhaps digging too dryly into its history misses the point. —Oktay Ege Kozak

The Awful Truth


Year: 1937
Director: Leo McCarey
One of the best comedies of 1930s Hollywood, The Awful Truth feels fresh more than 80 years after its release, most likely due to director Leo McCarey’s love for cultivating an improvisation-heavy set and keeping his actors on their toes. Even though his film was based on a hit Broadway play, McCarey constantly threw out chunks of the script and made up new scenes on the spot, which disoriented his cast to the point that stars Irene Dunne and Cary Grant became paranoid and anxious about the quality of their performances, since they were rarely allowed to spend enough time rehearsing their lines and getting to the bottom of their characters. This got to a point where Grant tried to get out of his contract because he thought his performance was going to be an embarrassment.

This anxiety was exactly what McCarey sought from his actors, which infused this whimsical tale of a couple (Dunne and Grant) on the brink of divorce, sabotaging each other’s romantic interests, with manic immediacy that created some unforgettable lines and gags. Consider a scene where Dunne’s character awkwardly dances in front of Grant and his character’s love interest, making a fool of herself. The comedy of the scene comes from the character’s utter lack of finesse, an unmitigated feeling Dunne derived from being told to perform the dance on the spot. Even though it’s not as memorable or groundbreaking as Make Way For Tomorrow, McCarey’s other 1937 production, The Awful Truth is prime ’30s screwball, thanks largely to the strong chemistry between Dunne and Grant. Criterion’s Blu-ray release sports a brilliant 1080 transfer with a healthy amount of grain and no visible scratches. The extras aren’t plentiful, a visual essay about Cary Grant’s career being a high point. —Oktay Ege Kozak

The Virgin Suicides


Year: 1999
Director: Sofia Coppola
Set in the affluent Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, The Virgin Suicides is yet another Detroit-area, ’70s-era film obsessed with death. That its quintet of young protagonists—sisters played to unnervingly angelic perfection by Kirsten Dunst, A.J. Cook, Hanna Hall, Leslie Hayman and Chelse Swain—all commit suicide in the end is far from a surprise, of course: What is a surprise is that we never know why. In fact, the film is almost an oneiric procedural, in which the neighborhood boys who become infatuated with the strange daughters pick apart, piece by piece, detail by detail, the befuddling lives behind the objects of their affection. As such, The Virgin Suicides gracefully attempts to remember what it’s like to be a suburban teenager, comfortable in Middle America but uncomfortable with one’s body. Yet, the brilliance of Sofia Coppola’s direction (on even her first film) is in the way she laces such a seemingly innocent story with malice and melancholy, fixating on details that don’t matter or moments that have no consequence. That the narrator (Giovanni Ribisi) refers throughout to the decaying of the auto industry in Detroit makes the film as much a ghost story about Southwest Michigan as it is a tale of unrequited love: Try as hard as we might, we’ll probably never be able to trace the tragedy of Detroit back to its source. —Dom Sinacola

Dead Man


Year: 1995
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Often classified as an acid Western or, in the words of its director, a “psychedelic Western,” Jim Jarmusch’s dark journey into poetry and enlightenment is a post-modern meditation on the genre, particularly its treatment of Native Americans. As Johnny Depp’s imperiled accountant flees the frontier town of Machine, escorted west by an Indian who calls himself Nobody (Gary Farmer, who’d reprise his role in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai), Jarmusch peppers his film with deliberately unsubtitled conversations spoken in native Cree and Blackfoot languages, along with his signature assortment of misfits—played by everyone from Iggy Pop to Crispin Glover to Robert Mitchum (in his final film). Along the way, Depp’s tellingly named William Blake experiences a violent vision quest, a trio of killers (led by Lance Henriksen) in pursuit, Neil Young’s raw, improvised score suffusing the spiritual realm he inhabits with a fatalistic dread. Bizarre, droll and lyrical as only Jarmusch can do, Dead Man is one strange trip. —Amanda Schurr