One of Kiarostami’s most daring formal experiments turns the camera on the audience. Set entirely in a movie theater showing an adaptation of a twelfth-century poem by Nezami Ganjavi— never actually glimpsed but heard throughout—Shirin surveys in a succession of close-ups the reactions of those raptly watching the tragic love story, an audience made up of more than 110 actresses, including Juliette Binoche (who would later star in Kiarostami’s 2010 film Certified Copy). The result is a masterful study of spectatorship and the affective power of cinema.
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.
DCP, Blu-ray, DVD
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.