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September 10, 2022


written by: Mark Cousins
produced by: John Archer
directed by: Mark Cousins
rated: not rated
runtime: 160 min.
U.S. release date: September 9, 2022 (Music Box Theater, Chicago, IL)


Just because I write about film often and lead film discussions with audiences doesn’t mean I know everything about the art form. In fact, sometimes I don’t even think the medium can be called “art”, but that’s a provocative angle to a discussion for another time. So, whenever I can, I turn to documentaries (or books, for that matter) on the subject, such as Mark Cousins’ “The Story of Film: A New Generation”, a continuation and update to his expansive 15-part “The Story of Film: An Odyssey” from back in 2011. Some see such endeavors as the filmmaking industry celebrating itself, but that’s an obtuse conclusion. If a filmmaker can take an observant and ruminative look at both the history and current state of cinema, it’s a benefit to those who consider themselves film enthusiasts as well as those with relatively no knowledge of the medium.

His previous “The Story of Film” was inspired by his 2004 book of the same name, and the series was a look at the history of film that became a useful aide in many film studies classes. Cousins, an Irish documentarian, critic, and film studies instructor, lends his patient and calming voice to the narration of these films, serving as an absorbing host. Once can’t help but be hypnotized by the sound of his voice. Reunited here with editor Timo Langer, Cousins embarks on a meticulous look at film innovation and themes from around the world, specific to the period from 2010 to 2021. For those who may think not much has happened in cinema within that decade, this film should serve as an enlightenment.



Once might not expect such a documentary to compare the likes of Disney’s “Frozen” with Todd Philips “Joker” (both Oscar-winning hits), but Cousins makes a convincing enough connection between them. As clips are shown of Joaquin Phoenix’s delirious dance down those now famous Bronx steps and princess Elsa twirling amid a snowy landscape as Idina Menzel’s powerful voice emanates the screen, Cousin posits that these two characters aren’t as different as you’d think. It’s indeed an unexpected and bold statement and one gets the idea that’s why Cousin is doing it, especially when we hear him posit, “No right, no wrong…the Joker could have written this”, referring to the parental ear worm, “Let It Go” from “Frozen”. While, I don’t know if I agree with him there, it is kind of humorous to think about. Finding parallels in two extremely popular movies, viewers are reminded that such supposed different characters, storylines and worlds, are nonetheless all part of cinema.

The two hour and forty minute documentary is loaded with movie clips from around the world, often compiling them into a seamless montage. In doing so, Cousins combines films we never would’ve thought to have any commonality. “A New Generation” also asks us to consider and examine what we know about what we’ve watched within the first decade of the 21st century, while likely introducing us to films we’ve never heard of or seen yet. I certainly found myself writing down titles of films I wanted to catch up with.

One such film from director Rajkumar Hirani, whose Indian satire “PK” was a megahit in 2014, headlined by superstar Aamir Khan. It’s likely that most Western viewers have not heard of the movie or its star, which is one of the many enlightening factors of Cousins’ doc. “PK” is included in the first segment entitled “Extending the Language of Film”, which is where he includes examples of films he considers to be breaking new ground or expanding the rules of film in cinema. He compares the kinetic comedy of “PR” with something viewers are likely more familiar with, the irreverent absurdity of Tim Miller’s “Deadpool” from 2016. He comments on the tonal shifts of “PK” and also the unique self-mocking approach of “Deadpool”, the later of which is something audiences weren’t used to seeing in the superhero genre up until then.




There are a handful of directors that Cousins repeatedly praises and some of their films he spends perhaps too much time on. From relative newcomers like indie filmmakers such as Josh and Benny Safdie for displaying a potent urgency on the screen, and veteran Hong Kong director Johnnie To (including clips from 2009’s “Vengeance”), to George Miller’s epic action opus, “Mad Max: Fury Road”, of course, Cousins sets out to show the variety in the scope of storytelling and how inventive it can be in a visual sense, even when the stories themselves are straightforward. It does feel like Cousins is perhaps overly excited about Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Cemetery of Splendour” and the two excellent documentaries from Joshua Openheimer, “The Act of Killing” and “The Look of Silence”. All three are great films, yet it feels like too much time is spent with them, to the point where it almost seems like he’s filming “behind-the-scenes” footage for these films. That being said, for those viewers who haven’t yet seen those films or knew nothing about them, it’s important that they are included since they offer much to contemplate, especially Openheimer’s documentaries.

While some of Cousins observations on popular and/or award-winning films are a bit on-the-nose and have been done elsewhere, there’s also enough fresh takes on other films that suggest a revisit with a different lens is in order. His doppelganger perspective on Jordan Peele’s “Us” and Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” isn’t necessarily new, but they are both provocative films that should be included when looking at this new generation. Including Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” is an obvious choice considering the cultural impact it had worldwide and how it became more than just another superhero movie. However, it’s good to see Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters” and Tomm Moore’s “Song of the Sea”, two wonderful films that touch on how family can be chosen.

It’s also great to see Cousins include powerful films from female filmmakers like Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace”, Lucrecia Martel’s “Zama”, and Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook”, to name a few. Sure these films have been acknowledged by critics and cinephiles already, but they can still use a boost. These films standout for their storytelling and resonating themes. If they happen to bring an awareness to viewers, inspiring them to finally check them out, then Cousins work here is done.

These are all part of a second section of the film titled “What Have We Been Digging For?”, which isn’t as captivating as the other section, but no less engaging. In this section, we also find Cousins including how filmmakers are incorporating technology for storytelling purposes, like Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and Matt Reeves’ “War of the Planet of the Apes”. What can be done with the tools used to make films is something he touches on as well, like when he includes footage from Sean Baker’s “Tangerine”, which is a groundbreaking for a putting trans women in the spotlight and shooting on an iPhone. We also see touch on how Jean-Luc Godard’s redefinition of 3D in “Goodbye to Language” is an experimental and unique use of a format that’s been around for decades, as well as Tsai Ming-Liang uses virtual-reality cameras in “The Deserted”. Cousins uses these films as examples of how movies can expand being the formulaic and offer something visionary that expands cinematic possibilities.

Cousins is also mindful of the time we are in now and have been in lately, especially with COVID. There are reflective looks at empty movie theaters and sparse cityscapes, along with his own videos he collected during the pandemic of people’s faces as their eyes close, as he optimistically narrates about dreaming and his belief that movies will continue to help connect us to the human experience. One can only hope so.

“The Story of Film: A New Generation” premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in May. Eloquently narrated by Cousins with smart editing, the documentary serves as a great reminder of where cinema was at the first decade of the 21st century and will hopefully leave viewers with an awareness or curiosity of where we are now.







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