Sean Lemme

Sean is mildly pleased with most things in life, so I guess it's good he made this website.

Criterion Month Day 31: Apur Sansar

Apur Sansar (1959)

It’s been a little more than two years since I watched Pather Panchali, the first film in Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, and I couldn’t possibly wait another year before wrapping things up. So here’s another bonus review, my 11th exhausting post this Criterion Month.

One thing that I always find amusing reading up on The Apu Trilogy is the exact proportions Wikipedia uses to explain how much of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s two source novels inspired each film. Pather Panchali, the movie, apparently represents only “four fifths” of that book, with sequel Aparajito picking up the last fifth as well as the first third of the second novel, also called Aparajito. This means that Apur Sansar both has the least material to draw from and is the first film in the trilogy not to take its title from one of the books. That title aspect is actually important, as it is reflected in the scope of this picture. Apur Sansar translates to “The World of Apu” and while the first two movies in the trilogy were about a family, the third picture is all about Apu.

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Criterion Month Day 26: The Watermelon Woman

The Watermelon Woman (1996)

Since it’s a word my browser’s spell checker didn’t recognize, I guess I have to start talking about The Watermelon Woman by explaining what intersectionality is. Since this is a movie review, let’s use the film industry as an example. The Nineties were considered a golden era for indie American cinema. Advances in technology meant that the barrier to entry was the lowest it had ever been, and a deluge of creative filmmakers took that chance to change the game. That wave meant there was more space for women, people of color, and queer people to make movies. But each of those groups only got a sliver of that space, and the more of the groups you belonged to, the less opportunity you had. Of the people who broke through, most of the women were white and straight, most of the people of color were straight men, and most of the queer people were white men. That compounding discrimination is called intersectionality. And it’s such a problem that in 1996, Cheryl Dunye was the first African American lesbian to direct a feature film.

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Criterion Month Day 24: Daughters of the Dust

Daughters of the Dust (1991)

Here’s the truth: this is my fifth post this week. We only did our Criterion Month draft a week before this marathon started. I’m lazy (in general, but especially when it comes to watching good, complicated movies). There was basically no chance Daughters of the Dust was going to get anything but one of my signature late night hot take. Which was frustrating when I went to watch it earlier tonight, as I was so hyped up by how often it and producer-writer-director Julie Dash came up in my research into the other movies I covered this month. It became maddening when the credits finally rolled and I discovered this is exactly the type of film that demands you spend some time dwelling on it. But it’s already after midnight and there’s nothing I can do, so here’s my ill-advised first impressions of Daughters of the Dust.

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Criterion Month Day 23: Sidewalk Stories

Sidewalk Stories (1989)

And I thought it was hard to avoid comparing Bless Their Little Hearts to Bicycle Thieves! Sidewalk Stories has so much in common with Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid it might as well be a remake. Both are silent black and white movies about a lovable but destitute man whose life changes for the better when he takes responsibility for an abandoned child. The nearly 70 years between these movies did create some gulfs that differentiate them, but the joy both bring seems a bit more universal.

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Criterion Month Day 21: Bless Their Little Hearts

Bless Their Little Hearts (1983)

One of my favorite Letterboxd reviews is Filmspotting producer Sam Van Hallgren’s blurb on the 2017 horse drama Lean on Pete. It’s barely more than a sentence: “You’re either the kind of movie person who doesn’t mind waiting around a couple of hours for a kid to burst into tears – or you’re not. Simple as that.” Without providing any details or real spoilers, he told me everything I needed to know about the experience of watching that movie. So I am proud to follow in that tradition with Bless Their Little Hearts: Either you’re the kind of person who can wait an hour for a couple to have an explosive fight – or you’re not.

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Criterion Month Day 20: Cane River

Cane River (1982)

Like so many of the movies I’m writing about this month, Cane River is unique and ahead of its time and was so close to being a big deal, but ended up being lost for decades. Its easy to imagine an alternate reality where a movie about a Romeo and Juliet-esque forbidden romance deeply steeped in an interesting, under-explored part of American history from a Black director and cast and crew could have set the world on fire. Indeed, it sounds like Cane River was a hit in its few screenings in 1982, when taste makers like Richard Pryor and Roger Ebert raved about the film. But writer-director Horace B. Jenkins’ sudden death put a stop to Cane River‘s planned 1983 release, turning this potential landmark into myth until it was restored earlier this year.

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Criterion Month Day 19: Losing Ground

Losing Ground (1982)

I’m happy to bring our weekend of women directors to a close with Kathleen Collins, a trailblazer whose second film, Losing Ground, is considered to be the first feature-length movie directed by an African American woman. Although that credential is somewhat debated, as some point to directors of the silent era while others say it was the commercial distribution of Daughters of the Dust (which I’ll get to in a few days) that made Julie Dash the one to finally brake that glass ceiling, nonetheless it is obvious and irrefutable that Collins had an immense talent and her career was cut tragically short.

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