With a small film crew, Wim Wenders accompanied his old friend Ry Cooder, who had written the music for Paris, Texas and The End of Violence, on a trip to Havana. Cooder wanted to record his material for Ibrahim Ferrer’s solo album at a studio there—following the recording of the first Buena Vista Social Club CD (which had not yet been released at that time). Wenders immersed himself in the world of Cuban music. Over the course of several months, he observed and accompanied the musicians—first at home in Havana; then, weeks later, in April 1998, on their trip to Amsterdam for the first public performance of the band (who had never played together outside a studio); then, still later, in July 1998, to their triumphal concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall. He thus followed the old heroes of the traditional Cuban son music on their path from being completely forgotten to becoming world famous—within the period of just a few months. “I thought, I’ll shoot a documentary,” Wenders has said, “and here we were, about to witness a fairy tale that no one could have imagined in this form.” The music documentary became a cinematic sensation and an international success. Along with an Academy Award nomination for best documentary film, Buena Vista Social Club won in the same category at the European Film Awards, the German Film Prize in Gold, Germany’s Golden Camera, and the Grand Prize for Film in Brazil, as well as garnering numerous other awards.
With his lush and sensual visuals, pitch-perfect soundtracks, and soulful romanticism, Wong Kar Wai has established himself as one of the defining auteurs of contemporary cinema.
“No one sees anything. Ever. They watch, but they don’t understand.” So observes Connie Nielsen in Olivier Assayas’s hallucinatory, globe-spanning Demonlover, a postmodern neonoir thriller and media critique in which nothing—not even the film itself—is what it appears to be.
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An intoxicating, time-bending experience bathed in the golden glow of oil lamps and wreathed in an opium haze, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s gorgeous period reverie traces the romantic intrigue, jealousies, and tensions swirling around a late 19th century Shanghai brothel, where the courtesans live confined to a gilded cage, ensconced in opulent splendor yet forced to work to buy back their freedom.