Friday, December 30

El Sicario Room 164 at Film Forum

What’s Showing Today? Friday, December 30
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Featured Screening: El Sicario, Room 164 at Film Forum

Gianfranco Rosi‘s El Sicario, Room 164 opened at Film Forum this week, and its in my experience absolutely the most affecting film of 2011. Based on a 2009 Harpers article by Charles Bowden (read the text here, or on Icarus Films’s Facebook), the movie virtually consists of a single camera setup fixed on a former hitman who worked for the Mexican drug cartels. From behind a veil he shares his personal history, details his crimes, outlines the systemic corruption and murder arranged by the cartels, and the searing pangs of conscience and ecstatic revelations that led to his flight.

The hitman worked in Ciudad Juárez, a city with the highest murder rate in the world. It not only exceeds the second by more than 25%, but additionally it’s a place where much crime goes undiscovered or unreported. Last year the number of homicides capped 3,000, and it seems that number will increase in 2011. The rise of crime in Juárez is commensurate with the increase of maquiladoras, manufacturing operations of companies like General Electric, Alcoa and DuPont, where mostly female workers as young as 13 work for $55 a week. Many of these workers compose the hundreds of unsolved female murders and thousands of unsolved female disappearances since Mexico’s signing NAFTA in 1994. A source of even greater violence is war among cartels smuggling cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin into the United States—and marijuana, which accounts for over 60% of their business. (Save a life, grow your own.)

Roberto Bolaño’s masterful 2666 orbits around a barely fictionalized version of Juárez called Santa Teresa, which is portrayed as an all-consuming black hole, the city and its unsolvable crimes representing all that seems to exist as fathomless, inscrutable evil. In contrast to that novel’s baroque sprawl and ensemble cast of protagonists, El Sicario, Room 164 is minimal, grounded and focused. The hitman explains how the police force is used as a recruiting tool for the cartels, how frequent and for what petty reasons brutal killings were ordered, and how routine, daily murders lead to compulsive, involuntary acts of violence outside of work. Where 2666 and El Sicario perhaps share some common ground is in the film’s profound formal innovation, which is to have the hitman continually illustrate his line of speaking through free-associative marker sketches, sort of live cartooning, which likewise seeks to tease out meaning from the incomprehensible.

Eminently fascinating is that one is likely to emerge with the sense of the hitman as a victim himself. If so, it’s up to the viewer what to make of this. To me, its indicative of how we thoughtlessly transfer our burdens down the line; how both deregulated American capitalism and United States citizens’ apetite for escapist drugs pushes systemic murder and corruption further out of site and out of mind, asking increasingly impoverished people to make even greater sacrifices and cheapening life in order to stuff relatively few pockets with profits and party drugs. The effect, as illustrated here, is that a serial killer is made, not born, and perhaps of an otherwise decent guy, as a conduit along the path of a game rigged for shit to roll downhill. At the very least, the hitman’s story is riveting, and this is a must-see movie.

Also Recommended

I also noted a critique of capitalism in the heartwarming, family-friendly entertainment of Hayao Miyazaki the other day. The Studio Ghibli series continues at IFC Center.

One of Stanley Kubrick‘s many masterpieces Barry Lyndon, plays the Museum of the Moving Image today and Saturday. This is part of the See It Big! series, and Barry Lyndon‘s photography is noted for the special lens developed by Kubrick and Ed Di Giulio of Cinema Products, which allowed Kubrick and John Alcott to film in candle light. Originally designed for Zeiss NASA moon landings, the f.07 50mm lenses were machined per Kubrick’s specifications to mount a variety of cameras at several focal lengths and have never been used on another film since. I’m featuring it Saturday, and in the meantime there’s an exciting Screen Slate-Kubrick announcement on the horizon so sign up for the email list to stay informed.

Spectacle Theater‘s midnights return tonight with New Year’s Evil presented by the almighty Horror Boobs.


Castles in the Sky: Miyazaki, Takahata & The Masters of Studio Ghibli at IFC Center
Series Details

  • Howl’s Loving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki). Details. 35mm. 2005. 114 min. 10:50 am.
  • My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki). Details. 35mm. 1988. 86 min. 11:00 am, 6:35 and 9:55 pm.
  • Ponyo (Hayao Miyazaki). Details. 35mm. 2009. 101 min. 12:45 and 4:30 pm.
  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Hayao Miyazaki). Details. 35mm. 1984. 116 min. 1:05 and 7:10 pm.
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service (Hayao Miyazaki). Details. 35mm. 1989. 102 min. 3:25 pm.
  • Ocean Waves (Tomomi Mochizuki). Details. 1995. 72 min. 5:30 and 8:25 pm.
  • Castle in the Sky (Hayao Miyazaki). Details. 35mm. 1986. 124 min. 9:30 pm.

Henson Screenings and Programs at Museum of the Moving Image
Series details

  • A Muppet Family Christmas (Peter Harris). Details. 1989. 67 min. 1 pm.
  • A Muppet Family Christmas (Peter Harris). Details. 1989. 67 min. 3 pm.

See It Big! at Museum of the Moving Image
Series details

  • Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick). Details. 35mm. 1975. 184 min. 7:00 pm.

Wagon Master (John Ford) at MoMADetails. 1950. 86 min. 1:30 pm.


Holy Mountain (Alejandro Jodorowsky) at IFC Center. Details. 1973. 113 min.
Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg) at IFC CenterDetails. 1993. 127 min.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg) at IFC CenterDetails. 1981. 115 min.
The Poseidon Adventure
 (Ronald Naeme & Irwin Allen) at Landmark Sunshine. Details. 1972. 117 min.
New Year’s Evil
 (Emmett Alston) at Spectacle TheaterDetails. 1980. 90 min. Midnight.


El Sicario, Room 164 (Gianfranco Rosi) at Film ForumDetails. 2010. 84 min. 1:00, 2:45, 4:30, 6:15, 8:00 and 10:00 pm.
A Separation (  Farhadi) at Film Forum. Details. 2011. 123 min. 1:15, 4:00, 6:45 and 9:10 pm.
Laura (Otto Preminger) at Film Forum. Details. 35mm. 1949. 88 min. 1:00, 2:50, 4:40, 6:30, 8:20 and 10:10 pm.
Santa Stinks (Jean-Marie Poiré) at MoMADetails. 1982. 105 min. 4:30 pm.



Below listed North-South