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Top 10 Missing in Action 2017

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The Conversation: Top 10 World Cinema Filmmakers Missing in Action (Class of ’17)

The Conversation: Top 10 World Cinema Filmmakers Missing in Action (Class of ’17)

As we get ready to wrap up the cinematic offerings of 2017, it’s time to revisit those auteurs we haven’t heard from for a while. Without any definite production plans in sight, we’re focusing on another group of directors who will enter 2018 without any new projects in the last five years or more. From last year’s edition, we’re happy to see Markus Schleinzer (Angelo starring Alba Rohrwacher), Neil Jordan (The Widow, starring Isabelle Huppert), Romain Gavras (Mr. Freeze, starring Isabelle Adjani), and Eva Sorhaug (Sunny, starring Sharon Stone) have all announced or completed new projects. With a focus on women filmmakers (and perhaps a slight skew towards the French), here are ten notable directors we’re hoping will come in from the cold.

10. Marina de Van (Dark Touch, 2013)

An early collaborator of Francois Ozon, actress and writer Marina de Van broke out on her own with the exceptional body horror debut In My Skin (2002). Her follow-up united her with two notable actresses, Sophie Marceau and Monica Bellucci with Don’t Look Back, which premiered in Cannes in Directors’ Fortnight in 2009. While her 2011 Hop-o’-My-Thumb starring Denis Lavant didn’t make much of a splash on the festival circuit, she made an English language debut with 2013’s Irish co-production Dark Touch. Favoring dark, disturbing genre vehicles, we’re eager to see de Van pick up the reigns soon.

9. Kanji Nakajima (The Clone Returns Home, 2008)

Japanese director Kanji Nakajima was shaping up to be a notable cult filmmaker with philosophical sci-fi efforts like 2003’ The Box, and his enjoyable 2008 meditation, The Clone Returns Home, which premiered at Sundance but never hit US theaters (thankfully, the film received a DVD release stateside in 2011). Word has been scarce on the director ever since despite the positive reception of his last film, which turns ten years old next year.

8. Nadine Labaki (Where Do We Go Now?, 2011)

Lebanese director Nadine Labaki took home the People’s Choice Award at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival for her sophomore feature Where Do We Go Now? (she also received a Prize of the Ecumenical Jury – Special Mention at that year’s Cannes Film Festival). Although she directed a segment of 2014’s Rio, I Love You, Labaki hasn’t returned to the director’s seat (though she has appeared in some acting roles, most notably in Hany Abu-Assad’s 2015 film The Idol).

7. Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet, 2013)

What happened to Jean-Pierre Jeunet? A wunderkind of French genre cinema in the 1990s thanks to his co-directed efforts with Marc Caro (1991’s Delicatessen; 1995’s The City of Lost Children), Jeunet’s English language debut was the ill-received studio film Alien: Resurrection (1997), which he recovered from with the now-iconic Amelie (2001), which made Audrey Tautou an international sensation and ushered in a new era of art-house influences. Following that with the WWII romance A Very Long Engagement (2004) and then the mediocre black comedy Micmacs (2009), his 2013 title The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet suggests Jeunet needed a recalibration (the film received an extremely limited theatrical engagement in the US in 2015). After a television biopic on Casanova starring Diego Luna in 2015, Jeunet has yet to announce a new theatrical endeavor.

6. Bertrand Blier – (The Clink of Ice, 2010)

A stalwart of 1970s and 1980s French cinema, Bertrand Blier is perhaps best remembered for a series of titles starring either Gerard Depardieu or Patrick Dewaere (usually both), the most famous of which is 1974’s highly entertaining Going Places, featuring Jeanne Moreau and Isabelle Huppert (which was recently remade by John Turturro and set for release next year). His outrageously funny Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (1978) won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and was included in an inspired retrospective of his work at the now defunct Cinefamily Silent Theater several years ago. His last outing was The Clink of Ice, starring Albert Dupontel and Jean Dujardin, which failed to receive US distribution, while previous title How Much Do You Love Me? (2005) wasn’t well-received.

5. Samira Makhmalbaf – (Two-Legged Horse, 2008)

Director Samira Makhmalbaf belongs to a small coterie of internationally renowned Iranian auteurs. Daughter of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, she became the youngest director to become part of the official Cannes program when her 1998 debut The Apple premiered in Un Certain Regard at the age of 17. She swiftly followed with 2000’s Blackboards, which played in competition and netted the Jury Prize, and 2003’s At Five in the Afternoon, which also played in the Cannes competition and took home the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury. Her last film, 2008’s Two-Legged Horse, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and has yet to receive US distribution. Rumors of a possible new project were flung around in early 2016, but nothing official has been released on any new titles from the director.

4. Kira Muratova – (Eternal Homecoming, 2012)

A trailblazer of Soviet cinema, Ukrainian born Kira Muratova remains a prominent fixture of Russian language cinema. Although her work was often subjected to the drastic censors from the 1960s through the 1980s, Muratova benefited greatly during the post-Soviet period, unleashing perhaps her most renowned work in 1990 with The Asthenic Syndrome, which won the Silver Bear out of Berlin. Although her non-linear, sometimes confounding style has relegated her to the peripheral corners of cult cineaste obsessives, she remains perennially unpredictable and consistently innovative. Muratova competed in Venice in 1992 with The Sentimental Policeman and she returned to Berlin in 1997 with Three Stories. Her last film, 2012’s Eternal Homecoming, went to Rome and Rotterdam (both festivals which often welcome the complex offerings of Russia’s cinema titans, as the former premiered Aleksey German’s swansong Hard to Be a God in 2013, and next year the latter venue has the pleasure of showcasing Rhustam Khamdamov’s The Bottomless Bag). Since the early 1990s, Muratova has rarely taken more than a four-year hiatus between projects, so we’re hoping to hear of something on the horizon soon.

3. Gotz Spielmann – (October-November, 2013)

Conversations on Austrian auteurs tend to be dominated by the likes of Michael Haneke or Ulrich Seidl, but another prominent, although less prolific fixture is Gotz Spielmann. Having competed twice in competition at Locarno (Erwin & Julia, 1991; Antares, 2004), Spielmann’s big breakout was 2008’s Revanche, (here was our interview with him) which premiered in the Panorama sidebar at Berlin and sparked considerable interest in the filmmaker. Picked up by Janus Films, a distributor not known for purchasing contemporary titles, Revanche was eventually released as part of the esteemed Criterion Collection in the US. Spielmann’s follow-up was the mournful family drama October-November, which starred Toni Erdmann’s Peter Simonischek as a dying patriarch and premiered out of Toronto, soon after competing at San Sebastian. Spielmann seems to take his time in the gestational phases of his films, and we’re hoping to hear news of something new as he enters a fifth year of absence.

2. Catherine Breillat (Abuse of Weakness, 2013)

She’s one of the most provocative representatives of female sexuality, and throughout the 2000s, Catherine Breillat was a formidable international presence. Whether psychodrama masterpieces like Fat Girl (2001), the searing period piece The Last Mistress (2007), or art-house pornography such as Romance (1999) or Anatomy of Hell (2004), Breillat has remained a contentious voice ever since her 1976 debut A Real Young Girl. After suffering a stroke and embarking on a series of fairy-tale inspired ventures, Breillat’s last project was a delightful union with Isabelle Huppert in 2013’s Abuse of Weakness (review), in which the director staged an actual experience where she was swindled by a man she’d cast as the lead in a film project. Not long after the film’s premiere, Breillat had announced plans for a Japan-set film titled Bridge of Floating Dreams, but mention has not been made of any movement on the endeavor since it was announced.

1. Liliana Cavani (Ripley’s Game, 2002)

A contemporary of 1970s era Italian auteurs such as Pasolini, Bertolucci, and Bellocchio, director Liliana Cavani is most revered for her daring 1974 feature The Night Porter starring Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogarde. The recent availability of some stellar entries in her back catalogue (The Year of the Cannibals, 1970; The Skin, 1981; Francesco, 1989) has allowed for some recuperation, but Cavani’s last theatrical feature was an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game in 2002, starring John Malkovich. While she’s unveiled a small handful of television projects over the past decade, this titan of Italian cinema has had several planned projects which haven’t come to fruition. While plans for a thriller titled Death is for the Living remains potentially viable, we’re hoping to see Cavani make a resurgence.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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