This article appeared in the November 11, 2022 edition of The Film Comment Letter, our free weekly newsletter featuring original film criticism and writing. Sign up for the Letter here.
A Couple (Frederick Wiseman, 2022)
“If the world could write itself,” Isaac Babel once remarked, “it would write like Tolstoy.” Something similar could be said about Frederick Wiseman, the legendary nonfiction filmmaker who has studied almost every institution that has meaningfully shaped American civic and social life over the past 60 years, including penitentiaries, schools, municipal governments, community organizations, and cultural foundations. Like Tolstoy, Wiseman often works on a vast scale, sometimes with hundreds of people appearing in a single film. Less frequently acknowledged, but just as remarkable, is his ability to capture the attitudes and predicaments of individuals as not just the effects but also the instruments of the systems in which they find themselves.