Rembrandt Laughing (Jon Jost, 1988)

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Jon Jost’s ninth feature focuses rather elliptically on the everyday lives of a group of friends in San Francisco–chiefly Claire (Barbara Hammes), who works in an architect’s office, two of her former lovers (Jon A. English and Nathaniel Dorsky), who are close friends, and a recent boyfriend (Jim Nisbet). Masterfully shot and for the most part very persuasively acted, mainly by nonprofessionals (the film’s use of locals is one reason it captures the San Francisco milieu so perfectly), Rembrandt Laughing is a good deal more ambitious than it might first appear. A sense of the timeless and the cosmic hovers over the seemingly casual scenes, and the uses of a Rembrandt self-portrait and Beethoven’s opus 132 string quartet are integral to the film’s overall project–to discover the universe in a bowl of miso soup. Part of Jost’s method, like Godard’s in A Married Woman, is to convert the dramatic into the graphic, and his various means of carrying that out are unexpected and frequently beautiful (1988).

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