Best of Criterion’s New Releases, March 2016

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It’s that time again: Criterion time. March’s release slate for the boutique home video label saw quite a few essentials, a’la John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate and Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (which I once wrote about in the greener days of my life as a film critic), as well as a couple of films that have not had the pleasure of an American release for their life spans. I won’t tell anyone not to check out Les Blank’s A Poem is a Naked Person, though I will say that it helps one’s enjoyment of the film if they’re a fan of Leon Russell. But above all else I declare that everyone must seek out A Brighter Summer Day.

I’ve been trying to find a larger space in which to write about Edward Yang’s masterpiece (one of several of his masterpieces, really) since getting my hands on a copy of Criterion’s two-disc Blu-ray release. Put simply, it’s a remarkable film. Put in more words than that, it is an absolutely stunning look at life in 1960’s Taiwan, the era in which Yang himself grew into as a young man, and a testament to how great “boring” arthouse cinema can be when it’s made with the rapturous, sublimely austere craft Yang was known for throughout his career. 

Maybe I’ll get around to picking through the sterling qualities of A Brighter Summer Day in greater depth in the future. In the meantime, I’ll just urge you all to check it out, with fair warning that the film runs just a few minutes shy of four hours in length. Yang does not make “small” movies, movies that are diminutive in length; Yi-Yi runs about three hours, and even the films Yang made that didn’t get quite as much notice in the U.S. still run around a couple hours each. But it is quite characteristic of him to shoot such a hefty film about so much cultural minutia surrounding so much cultural turmoil. It’s possible that someone could edit the film into a two-hour cut that is more centrally about the events it builds into, but then you would lose all of its magnificent mundane power. There’s no way around it: this is a great film.

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