Amidst all of the Oscar Buzz, Sundance and Slamdance Film Festival excitement and the usual political theatrics, another story has begun to unfold on the world stage. A story so strange, with implications so sublimely relevant, that it couldn’t be fiction. These stories are what make documentary film such an enduring art form: because documentaries are made in their making, and must account for the messiness and the unpredictability of real life while still remaining ethical, responsible and diligent.
The story we’re talking about is that of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian ex-spy who sought asylum in the United Kingdom and went on to write several books indicting the activities of the Russian secret services. Litvinenko took ill in 2006, and was dead within weeks of what turned out to be polonium poisoning. Yes, you read that right. Polonium poisoning. Why does this matter so much? Because not only is it entirely possible that those responsible created an enormous nuclear hazard in the process, but also because the trail leads right to the door of Russia’s current President/former Prime Minister/former President.
A British inquiry has been ongoing, and the final report was delivered Thursday, which is why the news has been exploding. To catch ourselves up on all of the intrigue and horror, we’re revisiting Jos de Putter‘s excellent documentary In Memorium Alexander Litvinenko, as well as Andrei Nekrasov’s Poisoned by Polonium. Both films serve as a powerful reminder of what happens when onscreen and offscreen life meet head-on.
As art often imitates life, many of this week’s new releases likewise follow this theme of collision between fantasy and reality, within and without, implication and truth. Here’s a roundup of some of the great things we’ve got going on this week, lest they slip through the proverbial cracks:
Full Battle Rattle* documents an official training exercise undertaken by the U.S. Armed Forces in the Mojave desert. Like parts of Serious Games, the late Harun Farocki’s incredible video installation, it’s a disorienting reminder of the role we’ve played and continue to play, half a world away. While this scenario can be packed up like a film set, the reality it mimics is ongoing.
Seaside takes us to another liminal space — a French resort town — where life is simultaneously an endless vacation for visitors and a sleepy doldrums for those who live there year-round. Beautiful, ennui-filled Marie thinks there must be more than this provincial life, but her beau seems content with things as they are. This drama won the Camera D’Or at Cannes in 2002, no big deal.
Multiple worlds are also at work in the original, incredible and simply unforgettable Solaris, now back in the Fandor library for a limited time as part of this week’s Criterion Picks collection: Under the mysterious pull of a strange planet, interior and exterior lives become murky and entangled. Don’t miss this chance to submerge yourself in Tarkovsky‘s sci-fi dreamscape.
In other Criterion Picks news, a rare and beautiful confluence of themes has brought a double-billing of groundbreaking film “essayist” Chris Marker to Fandor in the form of spellbinding, experimental short La Jetée (which famously inspired Twelve Monkeys) and lyrical, paradigm-shifting travelogue Sans Soleil. Watch, and be changed! And if you’re interested in some of Marker’s deeper cuts after these films leave the library, we’ve got you covered.
And as always, if you are still searching for that perfect something to watch, our New Releases page is the best place for the freshest finds in the Fandor library. Watch this space, too: We’ll be back with more recommendations and trending topics to share next week. Until then, happy watching!
*Pictured in this week’s Featured Image