The Encyclopedia of Film Criticism - Kiva Reardon

Kiva Reardon
I use verbs to describe what I do, not nouns. I hesitate to say “I am a writer” because in my mind a writer isn’t just someone who gets paid to put words to paper (or a screen) as I do, but someone whose words provoke revolution, tears, laughter, orgasms, and other things that make life worth living.

Contributed to: Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, NOW Magazine, National Post, POV Magazine, Fandor, Masionneuve, Little White Lies, The Black Museum, MUBI Notebook, Cineaste, The Globe and Mail, Torontoist, The AV Club, cléo, The Hairpin and collected writings here at

Noted champion of: Denis Côté, Claire Denis, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Haywire/Gina Carano, The Grey/later-career Liam Neeson, Eliza Hittman's It Felt Like Love.

Influences: Manohla Dargis, bell hooks, Michael Koresky, the essays in Interrogating Post-Feminism, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Nina Power, Adam Nayman, Virginie Despentes' King Kong Theory.

Toronto-born Kiva Reardon (March 27, 1987-) can be easily spotted at festivals and screenings thanks to her iconic top-knot, which is fitting because she's got a samurai's dedication to fostering a more informed critical climate. "I started writing by blogging in 2009. I had just graduated from McGill (where I did Cultural Studies) and missed thinking about and discussing film. From there, I started covering film and culture for, a local site. This city has a rather large and active film community and as I continued to write I met more critics and editors, which led to writing for (in some rough chronological order): Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, NOW Magazine, National Post, POV Magazine, Fandor, Masionneuve, Little White Lies and The Globe and Mail. In January 2013, I was chosen to be a part of the International Film Festival Rotterdam's Young Film Critic Trainee Programme. In 2013, I founded cléo, a journal of film and feminism. Now run by myself, Julia Cooper (Managing Editor) and Mallory Andrews (Submissions Editor), the journal is published three times a year and issues are based around a theme."

There may be no better way to dive headlong into Reardon's essential point of view than to read this line from her capsule review of '71 by Yann Demange: "’71 takes an ethno-nationalist conflict rooted in hundreds of years of colonialist history and makes it beige, apolitical and gutless. As is said, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and apparently also make mediocre films." Like the best political writers, she has an infectious fierceness, a refusal to suffer destructive and self-defeating tendencies in modern cinema and the covert, even unintentional messages they send. This blithe dismissal of '71 is a macro masterstroke, but her greatest strength is in dissection of the micro, gestures and the way they so often define films. When she goes small, there's nothing more satisfying, as in a clever 26-part essay on Trouble Every Day. She takes an often comical, incredibly thorough tour through the ways the film and director Claire Denis makes humans connect, both erotically and grotesquely. At bottom, the article is about the way that a male critical and filmmaking community views what a female director's role is and the way Denis refuses to care about what it means to fit that role. Reardon might helpfully be thought of as  the critic most concerned with celebrating/analysing films that break from expected sociopolitical and generic molds. Look at the way she ends a brief, dissappointed review of Peeples: "Peeples fails to deliver one crucial thing: real people." In that one sentence are galaxies of anger, whether you get from it a Marxist deflation of Hollywood's inability to imagine the other or a cry for films that rely less on cliche is up to the reader. She says a lot by saying a little. Though of course when she goes long her prose is impossible to break away from. She gains and loses speed knowingly throughout, knowing when to slow down and expand, and when to run with an idea as quickly as possible. When she's plugged into a subject, she's unstoppable, and when she's removed from it, she's still terrifically purposeful. She cuts a figure not dissimilar from Toshiro Mifune's character in Yojimbo [topknot and all]. She's capable of playing the long game beautifully, but when push comes to shove, a quick, merciless turn of phrase will get the job done beautifully. Kiva Reardon is a force to be reckoned with. 

On Tracks:
It’s too bad, since Tracks could have offset the gender imbalance that’s so prevalent in the “on the road” genre. Outside of Thelma & Louise, such travel-based excursions of self-realization are normally the realm of those with XY chromosomes (Easy Rider, Two-Lane Blacktop). Or if there is a woman in the picture, she’s usually part of a doomed romantic duo (Bonnie and Clyde, Natural Born Killers). This is especially true of sand-swept stories, which truly put the “man” in “no man’s land”: the lone cowboys of 1950s westerns, David Lean’s epic Lawrence of Arabia, the wandering bros in Gus Van Sant’s Gerry, any number of modern war films set in parched-earth conflict zones (Three Kings, The Hurt Locker). So when Davidson proclaims, “I just want to be by myself,” the moment is filled with vast potential – here’s a female lead heading off on her own. The issue is that her character isn’t compelling enough to carry this one-woman quest. Wasikowska does her best to convey the strain of the near cross-continent walk (embracing the role by growing out her leg and armpit hair for verisimilitude), but beyond squinting into the harsh sun, the actress isn’t left with much to work with: Any attempts at fleshing out Davidson’s backstory are reduced to softly lit, slow-mo childhood flashbacks. Because of this heavy-handed tone, Davidson comes across as flat as the desert, which hardly makes her tracks worth following.

On Gone Girl:
Of course, none of Amy’s actions represent any kind of sustainable feminism. But who cares? What revenge fantasy is wholly defensible? In the end, Amy’s revenge is getting her rom-com ending of a husband, home and baby. It’s the latter that finally nearly causes Nick to break, as he slams Amy’s precious head against a wall. Pinning her down, Nick hisses in her face she’s a cunt. "I'm the cunt you created," she replies, unfazed by his violence. Nick, and all men like him, have to live with that. Joke’s on them.

On The Immigrant:
The last thing cinema needs is yet another tale of female exploitation that uses prostitution as some allegory for saintly sinning by yet another male director. The Immigrant, however, cannot—or ought not—be so easily dismissed. If Gray’s previous work hadn’t already established him as one of the greatest storytellers of contemporary times (see the mirror opening and closing shots of Wahlberg riding the subway in The Yards, or the perfectly envisioned Russian family homes where couches overflow with mink coats at Christmas parties in We Own the Night), The Immigrant only proves the point. Because while Gray works in archetypes—the bad gangster brother; the good-cop son; the beleaguered but tenacious girlfriend; the innocent woman turned lady of the night—he always captures the person within. No one is so easily reduced.

On What Now, Remind Me?: 
This ambitious aim makes E Agora? Lembra-me far more than a diarist approach to doc filmmaking, though it never feels sensational. In one particularly evocative scene, Pinto relates how the drugs he is taking cause him to feel a pain that makes him constantly aware of his body. Beginning by attempting to express this feeling by speaking straight into the camera, the scene then changes. Pinto captures his body moving in time delay, creating a layering effect, as his frail form becomes something of a bespectacled, multi-limbed specter. The technique itself is not radical, but in the context of the film it speaks to the limits of language — both cinematic and linguistic — when it comes to expressing lived, sensory experience. Here, Pinto attempts to give a form to his pain so we can understand his bodily experience, yet this can never fully be. As such, we're brought intimately in to his life, yet constantly aware of the gulf that remains. This is further echoed when Pinto, a longtime producer and director, at one point confesses: "I don't know how to talk about film." Here cinema feels oddly similar to his illness: central to his life, yet beyond expression; a structuring transcendental force. In these moments, the film transcends mere confessional narration and enters the realm of the philosophical.

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