Best of Criterion’s New Releases: February 2023

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Best of Criterion’s New Releases: February 2023

Each month, Paste brings you a look at the best new selections from the Criterion Collection. Much beloved by casual fans and cinephiles alike, Criterion has presented special editions of important classic and contemporary films for over three decades. You can explore the complete collection here.

In the meantime, because chances are you may be looking for something, anything, to discover, find all of our Criterion picks here, and if you’d rather dig into things on the streaming side (because who’s got the money to invest in all these beautiful physical editions?) we’ve got our list of the best films on the Criterion Channel. But you’re here for what’s new, and we’ve got you covered.

Here are all the new Criterion releases for February 2023:

Romeo and Juliet (1968)Director: Franco Zeffirelli


Good Shakespeare adaptations always balance two (sometimes antithetical) priorities: The language and the tone. You can easily replicate the twisty, turny plots of the plays in whatever setting you like, but without the delicate, emotional, hilarious turns of phrase, they’re defanged—a little like hearing someone whistle Beethoven. But using the theatrical, unwieldy words of the 1500s doesn’t make for an easy job, especially when the subject in question is necessarily designed for the harshest critics in the world: Teens. Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet brilliantly recalibrates the play for a maximally modern setting, but it was Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet that proved that a faithful adaptation still spoke volumes to its intended demographic. Zeffirelli’s two-hour retelling of two idiots in love is lush and raucous, busy and blustery—and massive in scope. There’s a reason Romeo and Juliet has been trusted to capture the attention of high school English students in the decades since its release. Olivia Hussey’s Juliet and Leonard Whiting’s Romeo exude a guileless horniness and a genuine youthfulness that makes their rash decisions all the more believable. (Sadly their immaturity was allegedly taken advantage of by an unscrupulous Zeffirelli to obtain the film’s classroom-scandalizing nudity.) By leaning into the perpetuating affectations of young adulthood—the first-resort violence, the disproportionate gravity to everything, the constant motion and restlessness—Zeffirelli’s adaptation would be winning even if his characters were speaking gibberish. To some of those high school viewers, they might as well be. But the hormone-fueled vitality permeates everything, transcending even Shakespeare’s words. A handheld-shot duel rattles along like a boxing match; Juliet and Romeo’s hands touch like the only hands left in the world. Few Shakespeare adaptations have the confidence to stick close to the source. Even fewer make the source more accessible to its audience. Romeo and Juliet’s bravado respects teens everywhere, which allows teens (and former teens) to love it.—Jacob Oller

India Song (1975)Director: Marguerite Duras


It is hard to understand how Marguerite Duras initially envisioned India Song, the story of ambassador’s wife Anne-Marie Stretter (Delphine Seyrig) and her many affairs, as a play. The film feels so invested in playing with cinematic expectations, testing the rigors and rules of how a movie is supposed to flow and feel. Watching India Song is to be perpetually frustrated, frozen behind a piece of soundproof glass, watching a revolving set of couples hopelessly coil around one another, dancing in increasingly doomed patterns as songs are recycled. Indeed, the music that remains on a loop cleverly captures the spirit of the film, tragically building to nothing, slowly fading out as the palatial ambassador’s residence rots and crumbles. All of the actors exercise balletic precision with every step. In crafting a film that moves with such deliberate slowness, Duras encourages her audience to confront their expectations, forced to pay attention to the slight twitch of a hand, measuring the implications of a loaded glance. Seyrig plays Anne-Marie with a simmering grief, impending loss lending every gaze heft. Her work on India Song would be followed by the revolutionary Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles—1975 would be the year that her carefully articulated frustration exposed the exacting routine of femininity. As such, India Song is crucial to understanding the performance and pain of womanhood.—Anna McKibbin

Baxter, Vera Baxter (1977)Director: Marguerite Duras

The bouncy guitar and earworm pan flute scoring Baxter, Vera Baxter, weaponized by Carlos d’Alessio into something so aggravating that even the film’s characters get distracted by it, is just one piece of Marguerite Duras’ uncanny arsenal. Wandering or lying stagnant in a sparse villa, Vera Baxter (Claudine Gabay) chats with women who apparate into her rented home like Shirley Jackson’s most French spirits. Is she trapped? If so, by finances, by patriarchal power, or by something more supernatural? The modernist adaptation of Duras’ own novel is an adulterous ghost story, one told to its characters rather than lived by them. It’s a wry and dry way to show people stuck in empty lives they don’t feel like they’re living, especially as the camera wanders the gorgeously designed yet sparse halls in ways evoked most frequently by neo-Gothic horror. We sometimes get peeks out into the lush outside world, only to be unceremoniously yanked back into the stale-aired rental. We’re just as trapped as Vera. Crawling by, the languid and obtuse conversations (with plenty of artsy, theatrical pauses between vague declarations) clash with the soundtrack—the lively nonsense of the world passing these women by. It’s a haunting film, and one that asks you to weather monotony in its most polarized forms (its looping, energetic music and its affectless conversations) so that you may truly understand its hollowed-out protagonist.—Jacob Oller

Hollywood Shuffle (1987)Director: Robert Townsend

There have been many satirical takes on Hollywood before and since Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle, but none have matched this film’s caustic creativity. Blending the actor’s real-life frustration at fighting against an artistic landscape designed to reduce Black people to embarrassing stereotypes, with a visual playfulness that belies a genuine fondness for the power of movie-making, Hollywood Shuffle remains a beloved classic. The film follows Bobby Taylor (Robert Townsend) an aspiring actor auditioning for the film Jivetime Jimmy’s Revenge, a project that filters cartoonish street gangs through a white lens. Really, the film uses this simple premise as a throughline, leading the audience on playful tangents that thoughtfully adopt different genres. Townsend’s dexterity in mastering such different styles is a thrilling balancing act. Through pairing noir with horror and adventure film with infomercial, we’re asked to reimagine what we expect from these genres and who we expect to star in them. This inquisitiveness serves the film’s comedy, which is buoyant, silly and still relevant.—Anna McKibbin

Dazed and Confused (1993)Director: Richard Linklater


Whereas Slacker is, in many respects, the quintessential early indie movie, Dazed and Confused is more of a mainstream translation of many of the themes and ideas explored in Richard Linklater’s previous film, putting them on display in a publicly accessible manner. The scope of Dazed is less sprawling and more reined in, featuring a limited, closed-off world that keeps circling back on itself, but the episodic nature that is key to both is still in play. Over the course of one night—the traditional cinematic one-night-that-changes-everything—you check in with various groups and sets as they progress through the evening, interpreting their experiences, internalizing them, and being changed in the process.—Brent McKnight

Bleu (1993)Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski


Using the colors blue, white and red as the focus of his “Trois Couleurs” trilogy, Krzysztof Kieslowski manifests the ideals of the French Republic—liberty, equality, fraternity—through zealous accuracy. The atmospheres presented in each film are highlighted by the scores written by Zbigniew Preisner, Blue probably being the most important of all, musically. In this first entry, the viewer is introduced to Julie de Courcy (Juliette Binoche), the sole survivor of a car crash in which her husband and daughter were killed. Her husband was the famous composer Oliver Benôit (Benoít Régent), who had been working on a score to celebrate the European unity at the end of the Cold War, and Oliver’s music accompanies Julie’s daily struggles, taking on different tones depending on the circumstances surrounding her. Following her family’s death, as an act of defiance, Julie destroys the score, rids herself of all her possessions and moves to Paris, avoiding all memories of the past—taking only her daughter’s blue chandelier. In each film of the trilogy, one object links them to the past: the blue chandelier, the bust of the protagonist’s lost love in White, and in Red a fountain pen which plays an important role. A recurring image seen throughout Blue is that of people falling, suggesting that of all of the films, Julie’s process of letting go, of finding the “freedom” of the trilogy’s three ideals, may be the most emotionally obliterating. —Roxanne Sancto

Blanc (1994)Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski


The second of Krzysztof Kielsowski’s “Trois Couleurs” trilogy centers on the theme of equality, represented by the middle white stripe of France’s flag. Polish-born Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) has his life in France turned upside down when his wife (Julie Delpy) divorces him for impotence. No job, no passport, he ends up smuggling himself back into newly capitalist Poland in a trunk (from which he emerges bloodied and lost in the snow, declaring happily, “Home at last!”). Once there, he begins amassing wealth and plotting to get Dominique back, from which a murder scheme unexpectedly develops. And, as is the case in most of the director’s films, an element of the completely random provides dramatic tension that operates independently of the plot. The most comedic (or anti-comedic) film of the trilogy, Blanc is notable for its fleet-footed pacing, deadpan direction and strong sense of irony, with Zamachowski and Delpy both fully invested in Kieslowski’s tone. —Amy Glynn

Rouge (1994)Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski


Red would turn out to be Krzysztof Kieslowski’s final film—whether the Polish director knew he was near death’s door while he was filming the final portion of his Three Colors trilogy will most likely never come to light. In any case, it’s hard to picture a better film with which to bow out. For his Three Colors, the idea was to make three films, each based around one of the political ideals represented in the French flag—blue (liberty), white (equality) and red (fraternity)—Kieslowski often structuring the films around undermining the very notions the colors represent, characters from adjacent films making a random, happenstance occurrence in each other’s stories. Typically dubbed the “anti-romance” segment of the trilogy, and for good reason, Red centers around the relationship between a naïve young model (Irène Jacob) and a reclusive middle-aged man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who spends his day listening in to his neighbor’s telephone conversations. Simultaneously, we follow the story of a young law student (Jean-Pierre Lorit) who comes to believe his girlfriend is cheating on him. Hardly the passionate romantic romp the film’s title implies—that’s not to say the film is hard to watch. On the contrary, it’s mesmerizing. Like Kieslowski’s best work—The Double Life of Veronique or The Decalogue—the beauty of the story comes not necessarily in what happens but how Kieslowski deftly structures the execution. While watching the previous entries in the trilogy, Blue and White, are not necessary to understanding Red, taken as a whole, the final minutes of the director’s canon packs a powerful kicker. —Amy Glynn