The list of the 10 best films of 2023 has reached number 1, even though it’s a part of two.
1. Mal Viver
João Canijo premiered two films at this year’s Berlinale, Mal Viver and Viver Mal. They were presented in the competition and the Encounters section, respectively. The films are known as Bad Living and Living Bad, if at all, outside a few festivals. The films were weirdly absent at the London Film Festival, just to give one example. When I wrote my review from the Berlinale, I stated that “Bad Living is a strong contender for the best film of the year” and that I would be utterly surprised if any other film would be anywhere near. Bonello’s film made the race tighter than I thought, but Canijo’s film is still number 1.
Critics triggered by Bad Living
When I interviewed Canijo, he said that Mal viver is his best film so far. That says something, coming from the director of Noite Escura (2004) and Sangue do meu Sangue (2011). He also stressed the importance of cinematographer Leonor Teles’ contribution to the two films. Since then, she has released her first feature, Baan, which I saw at the Black Nights Film Festival and hope to review soon. There were some reviews of Bad Living in the Anglo-Saxon press that were not only negative but downright hostile. Seemingly, the idea of women being cruel to each other was a bitter pill to swallow.
The most peculiar part in one of those reviews was the paragraph where the critic claimed that “we can hardly tell to whom Raquel is talking.”.For anyone who saw Teles’ carefully composed images in a cinema, it’s obvious that this critic saw the film in a different way. However, the real concern is on full display in the review. The reviewer uses emotional terms such as “unremittingly bleak”.The Hollywood Reporter was not much better. It is yet another emotionally overwrought rant thinly veiled in a review. As a reminder of how far away major American outlets are from any interest in serious cinema, those pieces are illuminating. It is still disconcerting to witness what passes for criticism these days.
Still, Canijo’s diptych is an extraordinary achievement, and will hopefully travel to many festivals, maybe even Gothenburg in January. I am eagerly awaiting his new project, Staging.