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 YEAR END LISTS 

“As thorough and thoughtful a statement on art and life as any American filmmaker has given us.  This is my favorite film of the year by far—and when I say ‘film,’ singular, I'm referring to both halves of A Bread Factory, because they flow together in the mind. As of this writing, I've seen both parts three times. With each viewing, I notice new things and am more moved by the characters, who are unique and eccentric in the way that real people are, but written and acted with the economy and directness that distinguishes characters in well-constructed plays or short stories—ones where the storytellers know what they want to say and how best to say it. 

Readers should know going in that this is not a film that you can half-watch while looking at your phone. You have to give yourself over to the story, characters and atmosphere with an open mind and heart, and be at peace with the fact that the movie is going to throw you into the middle of scenes without spelling out who everyone is, and what, exactly, you're looking at. To paraphrase a friend who's a minister as well as a film buff, this is the kind of movie where Mohammed goes to the mountain, not the other way around. The journey is worth it. This film is miraculous, and we are lucky to have it.”

–Matt Zoller Seitz, RogerEbert.com (Part One, Part Two)

 

A Bread Factory is more than an ode to micropolitan life and DIY arts and crafts. If Wang—whose debut, In the Family, was another long, thoughtful look at the intersection of lives and values—has an overarching theme, it’s that no person is a solo act. His new film (or, technically, films) is, in various layers, about the uses and half-meanings of art and about community theater at its most literal—about roles that must be filled and performed, even if the audience isn’t there. 

Filmed on Super 16mm, mostly in long takes and long shots, it doesn’t comport itself even to the standards of grainy indie style, asserting genuine, uncool independence in every off-kilter high angle and plywood set. Even its flaws convey something of its themes—the importance of having a place for art that isn’t perfect and isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Personal art, in other words. For Wang, the strictly personal is the building block for everything else—whether it’s the well-worn groove of a long-term relationship or a Chekhov pastiche performed by a woman wearing a samovar as a hat.”

–Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, AV Club

“A Bread Factory, written and directed by Patrick Wang, is a drama that tickles your spirit in a special, buoyant way. It’s a vibrant and moving drama that’s also an agreeably flaked-out ensemble comedy. The film’s secret weapon is that it never lets you pigeonhole it as one or the other. It’s as if Eric Rohmer had made a Christopher Guest film — Waiting for Guffman recast as an ardent inquiry into what small-town American life has become. It’s an understated and contemplative movie, yet every scene in it feels like an adventure, and much of it is dryly funny. The question that hangs in the air is: Will the grass-roots culture of Checkford be replaced by prefab culture? And if so, how many people will care? The movie is firmly on the side of local arts, yet it has the nerviness to hint at the following notion: that the Bread Factory may matter mostly to the women who ostensibly run it for the good of everyone else.

In the same way that one wonders if a place like the Bread Factory can keep its doors open, it’s fair to ask whether there’s an audience for a movie like A Bread Factory. It opens today in two theaters in New York and Los Angeles, and though it’s a hard sell, I’m tempted to say that the film is too good to fall by the wayside. As a filmmaker, Patrick Wang is a puckishly high-minded humanist spellbinder, and the four hours of A Bread Factory fly by. Yet you also feel the hours pass in a good way, because they add up to something: a meditation on the side of the U.S. heartland we almost never see in the movies — the side that’s struggling, in a merciless world, to hold onto its heart.”

–Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“The film, a sort of cinematic state-of-the-arts speech, is endlessly warm, playful and lovable, a sprawling and prankish hangout comedy with no clear precedent. A Bread Factory at times suggests, in its nimble comic portraiture within a sprawling milieu, in its spirited blend of naturalism and sketch comedy, the work of Richard Linklater, Christopher Guest, Robert Altman and Edward Yang. The film is utterly singular, though, the kind of work that will become a point of comparison itself. The film proceeds less according to the strictures of plot than to delighted surprise. 

The second half’s most exciting thread concerns the labor that goes into art. Wang tracks a scene from a Bread Factory production of Hecuba from an uncertain rehearsal, to a breakthrough for its actors, to a searching discussion of the text and the characters, to a final performance so thrilling that I found myself wishing, while watching, that Wang would just shoot the whole play. Happily, he lets this Hecuba keep going, a testament to what artists working on a shoestring — and possibly to empty houses — might be achieving when the rest of us aren’t looking. Look for A Bread Factory.”

–Alan Scherstuhl, Critics’ Pick, LA Weekly

A Bread Factory is a tale of characters, dozens of them, all of whom have their passions and quirks and express themselves vigorously in sharp, insightful dialogue—reverberant aphorisms, dialectical clashes, and florid arias, which are composed by Wang. The subject of the film is the essential moral fibre that is embodied in their every action, that is revealed in each word and gesture, that exerts its influence and replicates its substance in every interactions, however casual. In other words, it’s a story of community, in which Wang, filming a mighty roundelay of encounters and relationships in filigreed detail, displays the deep tissue and secret substance of which a community is made.

A Bread Factory is, above all, a comprehensive vision: with a ferociously dedicated, deeply empathetic, finely conceived sense of purpose, Wang offers a steadfast utopia of imagination, devotion, integrity, memory, and love in the face of hatred, corruption, despair, and loss. He dramatizes the value of art as the enduring embodiment and living memory of its creators’ humane relationships; he distills community and culture into a mighty cinematic force.”

–Richard Brody, New Yorker

“Sprawling over four hours and screening in two parts, Patrick Wang’s A Bread Factory has an immense cast, a deliberate pace and thematic ambition to spare — but it also has a ground-level, plain-spoken modesty that renders it hypnotic.

Wang is a singular artist, but he taps into a rich tradition. The focus on the workings of an American institution may remind some of the expansive comedies of Robert Altman or the documentaries of Frederick Wiseman. But also, the blurring of the line between performance and reality, the embrace of an intimate theatricality, recalls the work of Jacques Rivette. These are cinematic giants, and this director may be on his way to joining them.”

–Bilge Ebiri, Critic’s Pick, New York Times

“Wang is an unusually gifted and criminally undersung talent in independent filmmaking. His latest is a warm and prickly humanist triumph that features no movie stars, disperses its attention across a large ensemble and feels meticulously handcrafted in every respect. A Bread Factory doesn’t go out of its way to manufacture intrigue, and its most moving moments — as well as its frequently tart, tetchy humor — arise from a spirit of observation rather than contrivance. Its chief concern is the collaborative and often counter-intuitive energies that go into a stage performance, and Wang, shooting on grainy 16-millimeter film with the cinematographer Frank Barrera, draws the viewer in with unhurried long takes that subliminally re-create the unmediated quality of live theater.

In one of the film’s finest sequences, Dorothea and Greta run through a few lines from “Hecuba” with a new actress, Teresa (an excellent Jessica Pimentel), who has replaced Julie in the cast. It’s a lovely example of the alchemy that takes place when a few actors connect in a scene, and it’s also an expression of faith in the notion that a new generation of artists and patrons will always find fresh meaning in the classics of old. Provided, of course, that a director is skilled and attentive enough to tease it out, whether on a stage or behind a movie camera.”

–Justin Chang, LA Times

“A lovably oddball, ticklish and moving tapestry about the struggle to save a beleaguered community arts center, its specialness derives not from a mercenary thirst to ignore convention, but rather a desire to refract humanity with passion and delight. Through bursts of comedy, poignancy, conflict, song, dance, and theatrical whimsy, what emerges is akin to a homespun symphony of soulfulness.

What’s most human about A Bread Factory, in fact, is its ever-noticeable consciousness, a feeling that life is rehearsal and reality simultaneously, an awkward and grace-filled search for meaning. You can almost sense Wang off-camera, like a smiling experimenter, happier with truth than effortlessness. To be honest, it’s still something of a formal mystery how Wang got me to tears by his communal final image, my consciousness shot through with gratitude for however I first fell in love with the arts. But he pulled it off, and if there’s any justice to our big-tent indie landscape, a place will always exist for his special brand of wisdom, sensitivity and sincere expression.”

–Robert Abele, The Wrap

“Few filmmakers treat their characters with as much compassion and complexity as Patrick Wang. The writer/director, previously responsible for the acclaimed In the Family and The Grief of Others, deftly demonstrates his unique way with cinematic storytelling with his ambitious new project A Bread Factory. This minimalist epic amply showcases Wang's gifts for Chekhovian-style drama infused with generous doses of subtle humor. The two-part film, running more than four rewarding hours in total, represents the sort of deeply humanistic filmmaking that demands attention.

The multi-character tapestry woven by Wang with a richness and complexity that rival Robert Altman at his best. The director, utilizing lengthy, static takes filmed in 16mm, provides myriad opportunities for his actors to shine. And they live up the opportunity; every single performance feels vibrant and alive, with Daly in particular investing her portrayal with a well-honed sly humor that earns some of the film's biggest laughs. This is a film you don't so much watch as live in.”

–Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter

“Patrick Wang’s 2011 feature-length directorial debut, In the Family, is a landmark of contemporary American indie filmmaking, a social drama that filtered its outrage at the discrimination against gays through the sorrow of a man seeking custody of the child he raised with his recently deceased partner. Wang’s latest, A Bread Factory, trades that film’s individually oriented drama for sprawling, Altmanesque comedy. 

The web of characters grows increasingly tangled across A Bread Factory as more and more people get sucked into the orbit of Dorothea’s militant campaign to save her arts center. And as the characters’ relationships become knottier, the film becomes funnier. Wang’s particular skill as a filmmaker is his ability to approach well-worn narrative devices from fresh angles, and here he manages to defend the importance of art, attack the neoliberal devastation of cultural liberalism, and argue for the renewed public commitment to the arts from a wryly comic perspective that eschews sentimentality.”

–Jake Cole, Slant Magazine

“In Patrick Wang’s deceptively tranquil, flawlessly acted, formally subversive A Bread Factory, a converted bakery that’s brought performances to a small hamlet in upstate New York for 40 years now clings precariously to public funding. Wang’s generous four-hour runtime (broken into two halves) finds room for loving, faintly Guffman-esque character sketches (a local actor and critic have feuded for 50 years over a bad review); testimonials to the power of mentorship for preserving continuity; and a most daring gambit in part two in which performance spills over into everyday life as banal encounters take the form of tap routines and choral interludes.

Art infuses all things always, and as Greta proclaims in the film’s nested thesis and cri de coeur, ‘Being a good friend to artists is very important work.’”

–Steven Mears, Film Comment

“Its steady shot structure is given new life by virtue of its 16mm format. That medium, most often used in more freewheeling cinematography, here breathes life into frames that in digital would seem stale and mannered. It draws the warmth out of its subjects, accentuates the handmade quality of The Bread Factory, and in the film’s lengthy depiction of Hecuba, brings unexpectedly transcendent beauty. The film is passionate about this sort of classical culture, the old plays and novels and mediums that are gradually falling away, finding in them kinship with the small arts scene.

I’ve seen a few better films than A Bread Factory this year, though not too many. Had I the time and means to revisit them though, this would be the first on my list, four hours be damned. Experiences such as this, that offer such a wealth of intellect and warmth so persistently, are few and far between. There’s so much more to draw out of it than what I’ve managed to extract in this piece, and I greatly look forward to spending more time with it one way or another.”

–Scott Nye, Battleship Pretension

“Dorothea and Greta’s lonely picket braces viewers for the reality that, whatever good service their theater provides, it’s not the positive feedback but the numbers backing them that will decide their fate. If everything’s set in stone, though, why watch A Bread Factory? Why spend four hours on this film, or paint picket signs? Why fight at all? The answer is in what we use to measure something’s value. If money and/or patrons were everything, movies like A Bread Factory wouldn’t exist. If volume mattered, than all of the shouting protesters in the opening credits wouldn’t have music drowning out their chants (Dorothea and Greta, it should be noted, are silent during their protest). The Bread Factory might be the older institution, but Dorothea and Greta still show up. Some of the most powerful scenes of the movie involve non-actors that Dorothea and Greta have wrangled into appearing on stage. They didn’t seek out The Bread Factory, The Bread Factory found them, and that kind of value isn’t quantifiable. It has to be seen. 

Over four hours, Wang wastes no time yet extends time to scenes and performances that deserve to be savored, and his leading ladies, Daly and Henry, are two of the best. A Bread Factory is a movie about chances. Every party involved took a chance by making these films, and — from an audience perspective — you might feel like you’re taking one, too, by committing to two two-hour movies. If there’s a risk involved with watching A Bread Factory — an honest and untarnished ode to the arts — it’s in thinking that its length could be a bad thing.”

–Rachel Bellwoar, Vague Visages

“A riveting, one of a kind cinematic experience, an ethnography of a community told with a profoundly compassionate eye. A series of absurdist ruptures between truth and fiction that bring to mind some of Roy Andersson’s scenes in A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. Admittedly, the constant blurring between cinema and theatre is a leitmotif that runs through the whole of A Bread Factory, and that the film feels and looks like a play owes as much to Bekka Lindström’s excellent production design. Director of Photography Frank Barrera films in Super 16mm, a choice that helps strengthening contrasts and saturation, but also symbolically echoes Dorothea’s anxiety vis-à-vis a world that seems to have lost interest in traditional means of representation.

A Bread Factory is a film of quiet pleasures; it does not unfurl as a rigidly structured three-act plot, but a tapestry of memorable vignettes, gags, conversations, and heart-to-hearts. Its strength does not reside on action-packed story—though things certainly do happen, and drama abounds, if one cares to listen—but in the immersive quality of Wang’s filmmaking, and his effortless ability to capture everyday life down to its simplest, most natural facets. It zeroes in on a small community and an even tinier arts center, but it understands both so well that its scope far exceeds the confines of a fictional city in upstate New York, and by the time Dorothea and Greta ‘walk together for a while,’ the whole town trailing behind them in a Fellini-like coda, the feeling is to bid farewell to old-time friends after a long overdue catch up.”

–Leonardo Goi, MUBI

“If it were a dog, A Bread Factory would be the harmonious and endearing cross of incompatible breeds, German shepherd and greyhound, poodle and pit bull… Patrick Wang, an independent American filmmaker, sets forth a flowing four hour film, at once a comedy of manners, a militant work and an assembly of aesthetic experiences. 

Throughout this great extravaganza, as ambitious (in words) as it is modest (in means), we will witness the struggle to the death between the culture that unites citizens and the art that divides the classes, the everyday shenanigans of municipal politics, the budding teenage journalist distracted by his first love. Somewhere between manifesto and sitcom, Patrick Wang has created a delightful space to inhabit.

Dorothea and Greta, dynamic and luminous, accumulate a kind of sympathetic capital that stirs our interest in their fate. We laugh even as we tremble for it. The profusion of storylines runs in many directions, but anchoring Patrick Wang's film is a fictional community that distills our better selves.”

–Thomas Sotinel, Le Monde

“Coincidentally, the day after seeing Cuarón’s film I saw another work that’s sure to be high on my 10-best list this year. But Patrick Wang’s two-part, four-hour A Bread Factory was playing in a special preview at the Museum of the Moving Image. In my view, it should have been in the NYFF, and the fact that it wasn’t draws attention to the festival’s current weakness in showcasing important emerging New York auteurs. Wang certainly merits that description, as the critical reception of his latest is sure to underscore. A Bread Factory might have dazzled both critics and audiences at the NYFF.”

–Godfrey Cheshire, RogerEbert.com

“There's never been a film (or series of films) quite like Patrick Wang's A Bread Factory. They're two lovely, altogether wonderful films that find a deep humanity in their subjects, demonstrating a clear affection for its idiosyncratic characters and the niche they've carved out for themselves in Checkford. And yet there's a kind of sadness that hangs over these films, a kind of mourning for the role of money in the arts, a necessary evil they both rely on and are torn down by. In the end, the quality of the work matters little in the face of public indifference or lack of funding, and that's the inherent tragedy at the core of both films. Passion can only go so far, but sometimes that passion is worth more than anything money can buy. In A Bread Factory that passion bleeds through every frame - it's an endlessly charming labor of love that firmly establishes Wang as one of the most unique and vital voices in American independent cinema.”

–Matthew Lucas, From the Front Row

“This daring and thought-provoking comedy-drama centers on something decidedly unsexy yet vital: the act of community building. Director Patrick Wang utilizes long takes in order to capture the occasional monotony of behind-the-scenes theatre work: half-engaged actors go through the motions of practicing their lines as Dorothea, the director of Hecuba, tries all kinds of ways to elicit the performance she is looking for. But the lengthy, single takes also capture the unpredictability and electricity of live theater. 

The film has a folksy charm, especially during the first of its two full-length sections. Much of that has to do with the characters, almost all older women embodying important ideals, such as hard work, the pursuit of truth, and, of course, bridge building. Indeed, Dorothea and Greta always try to forge connections with their neighbors, even those they may have had disagreements with. Dorothea and Greta’s warm and devoted relationship is both a haven for themselves as well as a rock for the viewer to hold onto. They remain steady even as unpredictable and tragic events unfold everywhere. A Bread Factory is roughly four hours in length, but with these two characters, it could have been 400, and I would have happily watched the entire thing.”

–Phil Guie, Film Forward

“Patrick Wang is a genius and this film is worth viewing two or three times. Each scene is created with ensemble virtuosity, like mini-instrumental performances, but it’s Daly who keeps the screen popping like sparklers. Her expressions, questioning the improbable, and her voice inflection, expressing frustration at the depth of human of human duplicity, are priceless moments. Wang executes a stunning evocation of Euripides’ Hecuba, allowing Elisabeth Henry to take on the reigns. She delivers with a majesty reserved for the queen she embodies. Brilliant.”

–Bev Questad, ItsJustMovies.com (Part One, Part Two)

“Since the premiere of In the Family, director Patrick Wang has cemented his place as one of American cinema’s most singular talents. Wang’s work opens a door for audiences he treats as friends. They are set in small towns. They portray the labor of feeling and community with humbleness but an adventurous eye. A Bread Factory may expand his canvas and diversify his tones, but it is uniquely Wang’s, and that’s a very good thing. This is a comedy where no punchline is predictable, and where even the ridiculous is tendered with care. There are many kinds of love in the film, especially the deep affection the characters (and the film) have with old professions: journalism, acting. These are the institutions that challenge and comfort us. But no bedrock is as stable as the warmth of those who have always been there: the life partners that see us through and keep our lights shining.”  

–Brian Hu, SDAFF Program Notes (Part One, Part Two)

“New Yorker Patrick Wang is without a doubt the best kept secret in American independent film. This is confirmed in his tragicomic, two-part saga concerning an arts center in the small town of Checkford, whose funding is threatened by the arrival of a performance art couple from China. Tender and fierce, this Altmanesque choral tale is not to be missed.”

So Film

“All communities, to be fully realized, must have a stage. A representative space where fiction can take the reins from reality and resolve the most ancient and fundamental conflicts that shake the City. The Greeks understood this well, they invented theater—that ultimate communal space, meeting place between aesthetics and politics. And it is to this meeting that Patrick Wang invites us in A Bread Factory, whose main character is the very place that gives the film its title, a cultural center from which the city threatens to withdraw vital funds. The film orchestrates the confrontation of two visions of the world: technocracy vs. democracy. But it does so without resorting to the sensational, preferring instead to pay close attention to each member of this community. Patrick Wang works his film as a diamond, facet after facet, scene after scene, with a grand and beautiful precision in the construction of each shot, until obtaining the unparalleled brilliance of the whole. If his staging calls simultaneously for soap opera and whimsical artifice in the style of Wes Anderson, it is to better elicit the truth, and sometimes the cruelty, of the situations and relationships between characters. There’s a victory in the end that belongs to sensibility, to intelligence, to art as collective resistance to individualistic, commercial temptations, superficial and harmful. In Trump’s America—and our old Europe with its battered democracies—there is a burning need for such a sensitive and political chronicle; how else to understand the reference to Euripides’ Hecuba, who prefers to die free rather than live a slave? A Bread Factory, that is, the restoration of dignity to the United States, saved by a filmmaker who is, in the strongest sense of the word, political.”

– Clément Schneider, ACID Program Notes