Criterion Launches Excellent Janus Contemporaries Series

Criterion announced earlier this year that they were expanding their release pattern to include a monthly trio of titles that aren’t in the actual collection but will be released with similar attention to detail and passion for the form of physical media. Called Janus Contemporaries, they will be recent international and arthouse hits, starting with three of the most acclaimed films of 2022, including a pair that made this site’s Best of the Year list and a third film that was nominated for almost a dozen French equivalents of the Academy Award. In other words, this is the good stuff. The truth is that international cinema and physical media are often difficult partners, with many of the world’s best films never being released stateside and a remarkable amount still landing on DVD only. The chance to own these great works from masters like Jafar Panahi shortly after their release (instead of in some memorial box set down the line) gives them a wider audience, which they richly deserve. 

The three, all now available for purchase:

“No Bears”

Jafar Panahi’s story of home imprisonment in Iran and his artistic output since that vile ruling is one of the most fascinating in film history. His latest not only finds another way around his restrictions but is deeply self-reflective in how it unpacks the limitations of filmmaking and the personal responsibility of the artist. It’s a masterful drama that I’ve thought about a lot in the year since I’ve seen it. The Blu-ray from Criterion includes a conversation about Panahi’s work with another master and one of the most eloquent people alive about the art of filmmaking, writer/director Ramin Bahrani.

Buy it here 

Special Features

On Panahi’s Films, a new interview with filmmaker Ramin Bahrani about director Jafar Panahi’s work

PLUS: Panahi Speaks from Prison

Trailer

“EO”

One of my ten best films of 2022 was Jerzy Skolimowski’s brilliant “EO,” a road movie from the perspective of a gray donkey. Skolimowski uses this unexpected perspective to comment on his country’s natural and political landscape, but “EO” is also a technical marvel, buoyed by riveting cinematography from Michal Dymek that’s as playful as its protagonist. The film was a surprising nominee for the Academy Award for Best International Feature, a reminder that the octogenarian filmmakers still had something to say about his country and art form. “EO” is alternately joyful and terrifying, one of the greats of the last few years. It’s precisely the kind of thing that never would have received an HD release if not for this new Criterion series.

Buy it here 

Special Features

The Making of “EO,” a new conversation with writer-director Jerzy Skolimowski and writer-producer Ewa Piaskowska

PLUS: All the Donkeys, an introduction to the six Sardinian donkeys who play EO

Trailer

“The Innocent”

Finally, there’s the delightful and unpredictable “The Innocent,” a film I hadn’t seen until this release and now consider one of the best of 2023—it came out in Europe last year but not in America until earlier this year. I’ve never been a big fan of Louis Garrel’s work, but this one alone makes me wonder if I underestimated him in how it displays such a confident balance of tones. The director also stars in this tale of a young man concerned that his mother (Anouk Grinberg) may be falling into a trap in her relationship with a just-released criminal (Roschdy Zem). Part heist movie and part romantic comedy, “The Innocent” also features a truly phenomenal supporting performance from Noémie Merlant (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”), who won the César Award for Best Supporting Actress for this role. She deserved it.

Buy it here 

Special Features

Meet the Filmmaker, a new interview with director Louis Garrel

Trailer

Note: The November Janus Contemporaries are the equally acclaimed “Tori and Lokita,” “The Eight Mountains,” and “Godland.” This is clearly a series to celebrate.