Best of Criterion’s New Releases, February 2022

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Best of Criterion’s New Releases, February 2022

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, anything, to discover, find all of our Criterion picks, check out some of our favorite new releases from February and, hey, since many of us have a lot more time on our hands, browse through the 100 best offerings currently streaming on The Criterion Channel.


Boat People

boat-people-poster.jpg Year: 1982
Director: Ann Hui
Stars: George Lam, Andy Lau, Cora Miao, Season Ma
Runtime: 106 minutes

Charity, goodwill, idealism—in the real world as in Boat People, they don’t mean much until it costs something. Director Ann Hui’s Hong Kong New Wave drama scatters allegorical politics amidst post-war Danang’s scrappy street kids and the Japanese photojournalist, Shiomi Akutagawa (George Lam), documenting them. Death comes easily and often, as the communist experiment decays thanks to the same rot that infests most human endeavors: Greed, self-importance and ambition. Boat People damns Vietnam’s New Economic Zones as deeply as it damns the actions of mainland China; points as many fingers at the U.S. military as at an international, ineffectual group of bleeding hearts. As Akutagawa befriends one of the local kids (Season Ma, outstanding in her debut role), we see the difficulty in maintaining innocence—in this country, in this world. Long takes, vivid colors and sharp lighting from Wong Chung-kei lull you into the intensely observational film’s environments, while jaded performances from Cora Miao and Andy Lau strop its heartbreaking detail down to a tapered point. You don’t expect anything good to come from this oppressive world, and the small connections that arise are all the more meaningful for it. Hui’s masterstroke is in not letting these connections exist in a magical unreality. Their true strength, and their true value, lies in their ability to face down their dehumanizing opposites—to pay their cost without questioning whether or not it’s worth it. Thoughtful and deeply critical (of pretty much any regime you’d like to ascribe it to), Boat People remains the challenging gem of Hui’s Vietnam trilogy.—Jacob Oller


Love Affair

love-affair-poster.jpg Year: 1939
Director: Leo McCarey
Stars: Charles Boyer, Irene Dunne, Maria Ouspenskaya
Runtime: 87 minutes

One of American cinema’s definitive romantic set-ups, Love Affair’s tight camerawork and tonal mastery boosts the emotional and comic timing of its leads all the way up to the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building. So boiled-down and essentially emotional that the oft-remade story got a fresh coat of paint decades later from its own director, Leo McCarey, as An Affair to Remember, Love Affair’s leads (Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne) spark furiously as recognizable archetypes and as sharply individualized characters. Their chemistry, put through the melodramatic wringer by an injury-laden plot enforced by the then-dominant Production Code, warms with a slow-burn heat as the two unhappily engaged gold-diggers find something worth fighting for in each other. Rudolph Maté’s understated yet sweeping camera moves enhance the same qualities in the leads’ emotional arc—if you’re not moved by Boyer’s apartment-searching rush at the finale, you might need your pulse checked. The new restoration from the Museum of Modern Art and Lobster Films looks crisp and lovely, as the lighting changes from the heady glow of the boat-born romance to the more realistic look of New York, making the Criterion version the definitive modern way to experience this classic love story.—Jacob Oller


Miller’s Crossing

millers-crossing-poster.jpg Year: 1990
Director: Joel Coen
Stars: Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, Jon Polito, J. E. Freeman, Albert Finney
Runtime: 115 minutes

Ask a group of movie lovers what the best Mafia film of all time is, and you can be fairly certain Coppola’s The Godfather or its sequel will be the reply. These two films are so embedded in the pop cultural consciousness that even folks who haven’t seen either will likely slot them #1 and #2. But change “best” to “favorite” and “Mafia” to “gangster”? Be prepared for Miller’s Crossing to enter the conversation. Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1990 noir does what many of their films do, drawing inspiration from classic genre niches of the (relative) past to create a vigorous, stylish iteration. In situation and dialogue, Miller’s Crossing draws heavily on Dashiell Hammett’s hard-boiled detective fiction of the early 1930s—particular The Glass Key and Red Harvest—while harking back to the gangster films popular in the same era. (Later films, such as The Third Man and The Godfather also receive cinematic nods.) In the film, Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne), the right-hand man of crime boss Leo O’Bannon (Albert Finney), must navigate the consequences (and manipulate the outcomes) when his boss ignores his sage advice and triggers a gangland war. As with any good noir, there are crosses, double crosses and, oh, so many loyalties tested. (Not to mention blood, beatings and booze.) But for modern audiences, it’s enough to keep it simple—the film looks cool, the dialogue snaps, and the performances—particularly from Byrne, Finney and John Turturro—simultaneously anchor and propel a riveting plot into the kind of movie-going experience that, 30 years later, make the exclamation “You haven’t ever seen it?!” as much an expression of anticipation as disbelief. —Michael Burgin


Written on the Wind

written-on-the-wind-poster.jpg Year: 1956
Director: Douglas Sirk
Stars: Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone
Runtime: 99 minutes

Melodrama isn’t often understood as anything less than obvious. Cinematic artifice—bold colors and audacious circumstances and volatile emotions wielded by brassy characters—exists seemingly so that melodrama can too, the tension of American life manifest in so many dramatic extremes. This is thanks largely to Douglas Sirk, a Danish-German director whose Hollywood melodramas of the ’50s—1956’s Written on the Wind as archetypal as the six other titles Sirk made with Universal-International that decade—dug up the all the country’s sublimated post-war misery, the racial oppression and class resentment and cold war paranoia, to lay it bare. There’s little that’s obvious about Written on the Wind, then—every image bears untold weight. A tractor of a man named “Mitch Wayne” (Rock Hudson) has spent his life growing up alongside rich psychos Kyle (Robert Stack) and Marylee Hadley (Dorothy Malone), the former likely to inherit his father’s oil empire, even though Mitch is the responsibly humble company man and Kyle the playboy permanently half-cocked. Between the two lifelong buds comes Lucy (Lauren Bacall), unable to resist Kyle’s wooing, which first comes off as way too strong (a personal flight south, lavish gifts, constantly one-upping Mitch) and then way too irresistible (unbridled honesty and a complete reformation of his philandering ways). Meanwhile, Marylee’s harbored an obsession with Mitch her whole life gone unsatisfied to the point that she’s developed a reputation for being, ahem, “loose.” All of this, so tightly wound in George Zuckerman’s screenplay and so exaggerated in Russell Metty’s endlessly blooming cinematography, unravels, because it must. Sirk’s images just contain too much. In one shot, Kyle, upon hearing he has “weak” sperm, wanders dazed and wide-eyed into a kid bouncing a little too aggressively on a plastic, coin-operated horse. He’s tormented, his face contorted, confronted by this symbol of his inability to procreate, to give Lucy the family he swore she’d have when he gave up drinking, his lifetime evidence that his carelessness begun young so that by the time he barely hit his mid-20s he’s got doctor telling him that all that ignorance toward health, all that hard and inconsiderate living, has now caught up to him. Everywhere he looks is a reminder of the evolutionary rot at his core. “He was sad. Saddest of us all,” Marylee says in the end of her brother, though she’s arguably sadder. She sits at her dead dad’s desk, inheriting his company and a phallic image or two. It is, for lack of a better word, sad. Sirk leaves little doubt about that. —Dom Sinacola