The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, April 27-May 3

the-sky-above-the-mud-below

The Sky Above, The Mud Below (1961)
Directed by Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau
In 1959, the French filmmaker Gaisseau led a seven-month expedition across Dutch New Guinea. The results are chronicled in this sumptuous work of ethnographic immersion, which three years after expedition’s start won the inaugural Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. While words are spoken on the film’s soundtrack by a recollecting male narrator (Gaisseau himself in the original French-language version, William Peacock in the English-language version that will screen in 16mm at Tenant416), luscious color images pass onscreen of wet swamp marshes, rolling hills, and verdant plains. Beauty and beastliness compete with each other throughout the film. The lyrical natural wonders illuminated by the sky find counterpoint in heaving, sinking men made ugly by sickness and by hunger. The sights of these men brought low, however, might not be as hideous as the sounds of the narrator’s voice marveling at the ability of the land’s nearby natives to (often with European help) behave like civilized human beings. The most magnificent natural wonders that appear in the film stand separate from these words: They are native New Guineans awaiting the white travelers, village to village, with a greater knowledge of what lies ahead than the visitors could understand. Aaron Cutler (May 3 at Tenant416)

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