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Friday, May 7, 2021

A no-holds-barred abattoir of one of America’s hottest filmmakers

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Tens of thousands have braved the bracing fog to see the Polish director Agnieszka Holland’s new film “Eyes Wide Shut,” the boldest wordless structure yet from one of the U.S.’s hottest filmmakers. At least one filmgoer left the preview theater perplexed, confounded by the various time periods, the storylines, and the ambiguous conclusion that stretched for two and a half hours. The New York Times’ A.O. Scott wrote, “If ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ has a single virtue, it is that it tries to do it all — to be a painter, a costume drama, a thriller, a brutal domestic drama, a medical study and a much-explored biography of psychoanalysis.”

Most critics were enthusiastic about Holland’s film, though some found it strange. A third of The Times’ critics sent it five out of five stars. The Verge’s Alexander Rosyuk writes, “There is immense artistic merit in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ — ‘Brief Encounter’ for a new generation. But you might find yourself wondering whether the enterprise is a little too self-consciously ambitious.” For a more oblique take, read The New Yorker’s Alex Ross Perry: “I longed to be able to enjoy the good qualities of ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ — and feel a certain awe for Ms. Holland’s achievement — but when you get to the end of it, there is absolutely nothing left to enjoy.” For bolder reviews, read The New York Review of Books’ Taffy Brodesser-Akner: “As I sat in the dark, waiting for something that simply didn’t happen — and waiting for something that it did, but didn’t happen again — I began to feel like I was in ‘Brief Encounter’ instead of ‘Eyes Wide Shut.’” The Times’ Alexandra Petri compared Holland’s film to a “dusty postcard of a romantic love affair,” but identified Holland’s genius in finding material not just for the head but the heart. “Mr. Holland moved, shrewdly, from narrative abstraction to a series of self-interrogations,” Petri writes. “He was telling us something very much about his own mind.” Her closing words: “Those who see ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ should re-enter the avant-garde like it is you who’ve never let your husband out of your sight.”

“Eyes Wide Shut” may have forced watchers to rethink the concept of the director’s cut. Some critics labeled the film “disjointed” and “overstuffed.” But James Ponsoldt, the director of “The End of the Tour,” found the “Eyes Wide Shut” experience exhilarating: “The meaning of life isn’t always a bloodless, formulaic essay.” Kate Winnick of Variety complained, “Holland’s compendium of head-shaking choices is an ungainly maelstrom of clichés — there are too many eros, too many pills, too many parent-child allegiances.” But Ponsoldt found her to be simply one part of the form. “Her style and heart are equal in all her films,” he said. Read the most comprehensive interview with Agnieszka Holland, “She Was My Friend.”

From elite power circles to the dark corners of imagination, filmmakers must constantly balance ideology and intellect with emotional engagement and a sense of humor. In an ambitious effort to look at the whole spectrum of human emotions and their ongoing impact on culture, filmmaker Roxana Saberi has debuted three films at Sundance, ArtPrize, and more. In a conversation with CareerLines.com’s David Lowery, Ms. Saberi shares how directing opened up a new aspect of her imagination: An appreciation for how movies alter us in unexpected ways.

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