The Death of Innocence: Elem Klimov’s Devastating Come and See

There probably will never be a war movie quite like Elem Klimov’s traumatizing organ donation thesis https://www.sojournercenter.org/finals/essay-against-sports/85/ how do you change font on my ipad https://ncappa.org/term/answers-to-my-english-homework/4/ https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/movabletype/papers/chapter-4-of-dissertation.html enter accutane patient assistance program http://ww2.prescribewellness.com/onlinerx/johanniskraut-viagra/30/ http://www.danhostel.org/papers/college-level-paper-format/11/ medimedsrx see source site go follow site https://lajudicialcollege.org/forall/technical-report-template/16/ https://www.myrml.org/outreach/buy-paper-straws-in-bulk/42/ paper that you can write on le viagra en france esl thesis statement ghostwriters for hire us turabian style sample research paper cialis myynti go here http://v-nep.org/classroom/essay-writing-form/04/ follow https://psijax.edu/medicine/digoxin-and-viagra-interaction/50/ enter site useful essay example of a one page college essay proofreading agencies uk how to write a good hook for a persuasive essay https://bigsurlandtrust.org/care/buy-cheap-viagra-australia/20/ https://sacredwaters.net/citrate/e-bine-sa-iau-viagra/60/ Come and See. No amount of hero-worship, no amount of action set pieces, pyrotechnics, or simple wartime nostalgia will replicate the horror of innocence lost to time and devastation. I saw Come and See through the suggestion of a friend and while I don’t shy from difficult pictures I almost wish I hadn’t seen this. That is a compliment, not a complaint. This is not a movie for beginners or people with weak stomachs. This is the movie Spielberg saw before filming his own Schindler’s List and even that movie had a few moments where the audience could breathe before the horror would pick up again.

I’m not sure I want to write anything too detailed because at one point I was so disturbed by what I saw that I had to stop the movie — thank goodness for DVD remotes — take a break, get settled, and tackle the rest of it, even when I knew that the worst was yet to come.

In a nutshell, Come and See is about a young Belarussian boy of fifteen, Flyora Gaishun (Aleksei Kravchenko), who wants to join the partisans during the Nazi occupation of Russia in 1943. The event that seals his conscription is the finding of a rifle buried in the sand, but once he joins the partisans he is left behind due to an unfair exchange of footwear. He encounters a young girl named Glasha (Olga Mironova) and becomes smitten with her, not before they undergo a blitz attack from German bombers that leaves them both disoriented. Once they arrive home Glasha realizes Flyora’s family — indeed, the entire village — has been killed. Flyora, convinced they are still alive, states he knows where they are located and attempts to walk through a bog while a terrified Glasha follows. The actions result in Flyora reconnecting with villagers who now see him as the cause of their miseries, a thing that basically makes Flyora lose the last of his mind.

However, survival still remains, and hunger sends Flyora and a small group of partisans in search of food. In a scene that has to be experienced to be believed, there is an exchange of machine guns that basically leaves Flyora again, alone and destitute. If you thought that things are about to get better, think again. Come and See dives into the abyss and right into the face of the Fuhrer himself in an agonizing shot of reverse chronology that pulls the rug off of you and leaves you speechless.

Last year I saw a Romanian movie called I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians, and while that film was mostly comedic, its finale and that of Come and See are inextricably linked through the massacre of a people by the hands of the military. Come and See has a much longer and cringing sequence, and itself was the moment I had to stop viewing the movie due to the sheer level of horror that leaped from the visuals. All the anguish, all the agony gets carried out in a young boy’s face as it morphs from that of a teenager with dreams to a rictus of pain and fear. This is not Empire of the Sun. This almost qualifies as a documentary — it’s that horrifying. Klimov, if he wished to make a commentary on how barbarous this event was in which 628 Belarussian were slaughtered by the Nazis needn’t worry.

Women in Film: Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Old Guard, Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey, and Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Sidney Flanagan in Never Rarely Sometimes Always [image from Amazon]

Hello again, and thank you for reading me. Given the dramatic rise of women in film — be it on the director’s chair, as producers, documentarians — I’m going to start a little something called Women in Film, and it’s going to spotlight women who have made or are currently making contributions to the art of film making in positions behind the camera. Considering how the Academy consistently fails to include them even now in prominent categories (where were Lulu Wang and Greta Gerwig in last year’s Oscars? Oh, right, they weren’t) and the fact that ten, fifteen, twenty years ago you had to really scavenge through piles of videos and theatrical offerings to find anyone female (aside from the few prominent ones — Claire Denis, Kathryn Bigelow, Jodie Foster, Agnes Vardá, and Chantal Akerman, to name a quick few off the top of my head, I think it’s time to create a running theme that will focus on women.

Those of you who know cinema will agree that since the dawn of cinema as an alternative hobby in the 19th Century, which soon evolved into larger, longer forms that eventually became the Silent Film, women have been present as directors, screenwriters, and producers in their own right, and only because a group of men decided to put the lid on this did we, after Dorothy Arzner, not see a prominent woman director until Ida Lupino came along and brought her gritty noir classic The Hitcher. It’s a shame, because when you come across some of the movies directed or written by women you will notice that it is they who can create the most memorable narratives I have seen.

Below, I will review two superhero movies and one indie drama, all directed by women, with strong female leads as players.

Superhero Movies

One of the reasons I never review superhero movies is because they’re frankly, un-cinematic, and represent the worst of movie-making. It’s pretty stupid to think that stories like these have any worth other than perpetuating a comic-book mentality. I just can’t walk into a movie theater, or now in the days of Covid-19, hit click on a title, and expect to see a coherent, intelligent narrative that doesn’t devolve into a CGI atrocity complete with the now ubiquitous use of martial arts as the one form of conflict resolution. I just don’t know what to make of these films. Maybe I’m not with the times, but frankly, I’ve never cared for canned entertainment.

Now, this opening paragraph might sound like I truly hate superhero movies down to the last one. I don’t: Patty Jenkins’ epic Wonder Woman, for example, announced that women can also create complex universes with elaborate set pieces, direct complicated battle sequences, and include topics of sisterhood, altruism, and especially, a hero’s journey all in one –, at times better than men. Someone who would fit that niche nicely is Claire Denis, for example. Had she been brought in to direct Joker, I can guarantee it would have been even darker and more twisted still and managed to deliver one of the most complex supervillain origin stories ever. It would have been memorable. But… c’est la vie, and I digress.

The Old Guard. Image from Netflix.

The Old Guard

The Old Guard is based on the graphic novel of the same name and its DC comic origins can’t be ignored as its writer, Greg Rucka, is also a comic-book writer. Stepping away from the convoluted storylines present within every superhero biography, he presents a small group of renegades led by Andy/Andromache (a muted Charlize Theron, again sporting what seems to be a trademark asymmetrical haircut). This group has been on the fringe of society for as long as they know; Andy herself may as well be over 6,000 years old and at one time was a goddess worshipped by the Greeks who then traveled, alone, around the world only to meet Quynh (Veronica Ngo), another immortal like herself, who suffered a cruel fate and whose whereabouts are unknown at the moment.

Accompanying Andy are Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), the terribly named Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). The latter two are former soldiers who fought each other on enemy lines ages ago and quite frankly, met cute in a time when there were no labels, and have since been together and thus becoming the planet’s first gay superhero couple.

The plot, however, doesn’t yet concern this group (other than introducing them), but instead, focuses its attention on a young African American soldier, Nile (Kiki Layne), who gets mortally wounded in Afghanistan. When Nile not only fails to die but also recovers miraculously, she starts experiencing vivid dreams in which she sees the aforementioned band of renegades, who also happen to be dreaming about her. Andy, clearly the band’s leader, decides they must seek Nile out and recruit her.

What these immortals don’t know is that they’re about to get sold down the river by an unscrupulous individual named Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who has long been observing them pop up in all kinds of historical news items dating back millennia (and how he was able to come into contact with so much of this information is debatable, but in true comic-book sense, no one is really counting).

Copley wants to trade the immortals in to study their powers of regeneration so he can do some good himself for humanity after experiencing the tragic loss of his wife. The problem is, who he is dealing with has ulterior motives and usually, in narratives such as these, this involves a megalomaniac villain (here portrayed by Harry Melling with insane gusto; he does a sadistic coward beautifully) with unlimited access to all sorts of things.

The Old Guard takes a somewhat meandering pace during its own early run time, and that in a way is pretty effective in keeping the story itself moving forward but also taking some asides. One large chunk of the movie involves Andy as she tracks down a very resistant Nile who fears she may be dishonorably discharged from the military. Theron and Layne operate well in both their verbal spats and their balletic fights; Layne is particularly a potent foil to Theron’s world-weary unwilling heroine. Once Nile is incorporated into the band of renegades she finds out that being an immortal comes at a heavy price: she will outlive everyone she loves. A scene with Layne and Schoenaerts feels reminiscent of some of the more poignant scenes of Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire as seen and experienced by Brad Pitt’s doomed character.

Something I noticed, and perhaps this is unintentional but I’ll throw it in for good measure. There is a running concept that your work during an incarnation is not done until it is done for good. Because these immortals have been “standing up to what is wrong” all their lives, it seems that they have been offered a heavy task or series of tasks to balance out karmic debts.

However, I don’t want to go into too much New Age blathering. While not memorable by any means — I had trouble connecting with The Old Guard once it was done and it will not surprise me, from the final scene, that there will be a sequel — Gina Prince-Bythewood’s movie is a solid piece of good old fashioned entertainment featuring a multi-cultural cast complete with high-caliber performances that elevate a silly, and frankly, overdone origin story into pure fun. Cinematically, it’s a bit flat and often seems to be a work for hire, but who cares? Had this been released in movie theaters it would have struck gold at the box office for sure.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Someone must have seen Cathy Yan’s debut feature film Dead Pigs at Sundance or AFI (the only venues where her movie has played) in 2018 and been impressed enough to warrant giving her the helm at directing the female-centric superhero movie Birds of Prey, the spin-off to Suicide Squad, and it shows. Now, I have not seen Dead Pigs and am awaiting either the Film Society of Lincoln Center or some art-house distributor to release it online, so I don’t have any platform on where to judge Yan’s first movie and how it correlates to her sophomore feature. What I can say, and I will keep it short only for reasons that again, this is a superhero movie and I don’t want to impose a War and Peace type article because I have yet another movie to review, Cathy Yan is an electric director with her hand on fast narrative, razor-sharp humor, and a lead performance by Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn who gleefully embodies the energy of a psychopathic Tazmanian devil with so much abandon you can practically feel her sinking her teeth in what seems to be a massive pile of rich velvet cake. With a script penned by Christina Hodson (who also penned the derivative Shut In and can be forgiven for it), Birds of Prey is supremely fast-paced, offers equal opportunity for its group of female actresses (Rosie Perez, Mary-Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Allie Wong, and Ella Jay Basco) to shine and burn a path of mayhem on their own as they ferociously assert their own brand of girl power. If the producers and whatnot can keep these two on board for what will be a necessary sequel come 2022, I’ll be easily sold into watching it.

Sidney Flanagan and Talia Ryder in Never Rarely Sometimes Always.

Never Rarely Sometime Always

Here we have one of the best movies of the year so far, if not the best. Eliza Hittman’s poignant, observational Sundance breakout hit Never Rarely Sometimes Always, should you see it, will haunt you for a long time after the credits roll.

The movie stars newcomer Sidney Flanagan in a role I am sure will garner her numerous praise and award nominations within the independent crowd (and of course will be ignored by the Academy as this is not their cup of tea, wasn’t made with pomp and circumstance in mind, and is frankly, too left of commercial to be widely accepted). Flanagan plays Autumn Callahan, a 17-year old from a small town, Pennsylvania, who discovers she is pregnant, But before we get there, we are introduced not to her situation, but what may have led to it, and thus, the film’s remarkably astute title.

Following some high-school performers singing 1950s tunes — all boys, mind you — Autumn enters the stage, guitar at hand. Listen to the song she is singing; it in itself drives the entire plot and it’s all you need to know to appreciate what she is going through, Mid-way through, a boy cat-calls her from the audience, calling her “Slut!” [Incredibly, no one bats an eye; no one intervenes to call him out, which is the film’s first exclamation point that points out how men even at a young age get away with atrocious behavior that will, of course, lead to more troublesome behavior along the way.]

Undeterred, Autumn lashes back, singing as if this is all she has. She will later get back at the boy, but for now, she has more issues that are starting to take form. In a move that defines just how innocent she is about practically life in itself, Autumn goes to a clinic to get a pregnancy test. She gets the test done and realizes she could have simply bought it at a local CVS Pharmacy. When the test comes back positive, almost immediately the kind doctor handling her case makes a point that Autumn should not have an abortion but should instead put it up for adoption.

However, for Autumn, who lives home with her distant mother and unsympathetic father, this is not an option. Her perceptive older cousin Skylar (and excellent Talia Ryder) reaches out and in a wordless montage realizes that Autumn is indeed in trouble. Without any hesitation, the two young women make an unplanned trip to New York to have an abortion, come back, and resume their lives with a secret only the two of them will share.

Imager from No Film School

Eliza Hittman’s movie is a masterpiece of narration because it never gives the girls an easy way out. We who travel take for granted that big cities with mass transit, for example, offer perks for visitors like a one-day subway pass. Such minor detail is essential for the story because neither girls know this bit, and with the money that they’ve stolen from the pharmacy, which they have erroneously thought should be enough to carry them through an extremely expensive city like New York, they begin to use it for the simplest things like buying subway tickets.

This, and many other details, make even the slightest wrong turn, crucial for Autumn and Skylar who simply want to get through a quick appointment and return to their small Pennsylvania town and forget this ever happened. When the first clinic they go to, located in the middle of Brooklyn, informs Autumn that due to the advanced stages of her pregnancy she will have to go to the clinic’s Manhattan location for assistance, she is dismayed but makes the best of it. Because you cannot stay overnight at Port Authority, they elect to ride the D train all through the night. [Again, it is important to signal that these aren’t savvy travelers; they could have stayed at Penn Station, for example, with no problem at all, but then we wouldn’t have the story we have now.]

The situation gets only worse for the girls — but mainly for Autumn — when she then gets the unwelcome news from a kind female counselor that her procedure will take two days. The counselor offers help via a shelter, but Autumn, who plays her emotions as close to her chest as she can until she reveals them in the most heartbreaking manner possible — and that is a gut-wrenching scene that threatens to swallow the movie whole–, chooses again to spend it with Skylar wandering about the city, traveling the subway until the following day, where they meet a boy (Thèodore Pellerin) who will help them financially… for a price.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is an emotionally shattering little movie that must be seen to understand the plight of teen mothers — and women in general. It is in its own way a cry against the way women get treated by men — even young men — and the society that while seeming to want to do the best by them, often fails. Practically all the men in the movie are seen at some level of hostile to the two girls — ranging from a lecherous boss to an uncaring information agent to a lewd subway rider. Now, note that it is not a movie that hates men per se — but when you think that in many states abortions are illegal and women are still unprotected against the abuses of men, then you will totally understand the theme of Hittman’s powerful story.

Watch it and discover a strong director in Eliza Hittman who pulls back no punches and while remaining on the side of restraint, she actually intensifies the power of the female voice that never gets heard or told except in the shadows. I promise you this movie will linger Sith you for a while as it did with me.

A Girl Reclaims Her Power in Gretel and Hansel

Ever since I came upon the eerie, I Am The Pretty Thing that Lives In This House, a movie that pays an enormous homage to the weird works of Shirley Jackson, I’ve become hooked on the beautiful, not-quite horror movies that Osgood Perkins produces. His follow-up, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, with its hair-raising theme of the same name, took a different, more visceral approach and seemed to echo the Narciso Ibañez Serrador movie La Residencia (re-titled The House that Screamed) with chilling, unsettling results.

Perkins’ latest movie is a lofty adaptation that again nosedives into another style, this time echoing the works of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur (whose noir classic Out of the Past I just reviewed). A well-known fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel gets a novel approach, this time focusing not just on one but two strong women and pits them against each other in an uneasy dance of wits with the knives slowly emerging from their long sleeves.

The story is well-known. In the Grimm’s brothers’ tale, two siblings get lost in the woods and stumble upon a house made of gingerbread. The house in question is a trap made out of delicious candy and pastries made to ensnare children drawn to it by a nefarious witch, for nefarious purposes. You know the rest.

In this version, however, Perkins gives the action some meat for its bones (no pun intended). A widow offers her teenage daughter–Gretel (a poised, assured Sophia Lilis)– to serve at a house of a rather rich but disgusting old man who will also take advantage of her, sexually. In return, both Gretel and the mother will have a form of financial security — the mother, via payment, and the daughter, via her own security. When Gretel respectfully declines, the mother goes into a fury and drives Gretel and her brother Hansel out of the house.

Lost in the woods, the children find temporary shelter in an abandoned home. The home winds up being the squatting ground for a sinister-looking creature. Saving them from an assured death, a hunter (Charles Babaloa) offers only temporary protection. Soon, Gretel and Hansel are off again, and encounter mushrooms that make them high. As they venture deeper into the woods, they finally come across a house that looks forbidding as it looks like shelter. Considering their previous encounter, Gretel and Hansel would have continued walking, but the aroma, the smells indeed, of food that neither of them has ever even experienced gets the better of them. For in the house, a witch lives, and she comes under the formidable presence of Alice Krige.

Perkins’ movie is, indeed, a sight to see. He takes a simple good-vs-evil story and turns it into a young child’s journey into adulthood. You may even dissect it further and discuss that this is the way a woman discovers her own powers and asserts herself from older structures. Whatever you make of it, Gretel and Hansel takes its time to eventually show its claws. However, it is not interested in showing you gore and horror so disturbing you may be sent to the toilet to hurl–it’s not French, which is saying something. No, it’s horror is more dreamlike. A scene of a young witch (Jessica de Gouw) conjuring up the prana still living inside a flood of still-quivering organs is shocking as it is repulsive. Even more so is the smoke from a chimney turning crimson red — a nod to the terrible scene in Schindler’s List which featured smoke coming from chimneys in an unforgettable, stomach-churning scene.

It is possible that people expecting more direct-chills will be rendered impatient for more confrontations to occur. Perkins doesn’t plunge Gretel and Hansel into chaos from the get-go — we will eventually get there, and it will still be under the guise of an acid trip. Even when his two children meet the woman who is essentially a predator of the worst nature, the movie stops to announce Gretel as a young woman quite capable to stand up a formidable foe while slowly uncovering her secrets. It does require patience to see this part of the movie because the story is so well-known and back when it was written we didn’t have these lapses into uncomfortable conversations pregnant with chaos just off the frame waiting to be unleashed. The world, then, was more black and white and demanded we get to the point, immediately. It’s why Greek tragedy is so no-nonsense: it gives you a situation that can only end one way.

Gretel and Hansel knows where it’s going but it wants you along for the dream that will slowly reveal its nightmare. I don’t think it is perfect, and I don’t need it to be. However, it is gorgeous, multi-layered, and I can’t wait to see what Perkins does next.


Two Films by Dan Sallitt: The Unspeakable Act and Fourteen

Imager from Amazon

The Unspeakable Act

Taboo relations often get depicted as salacious and macabre on film, so for Dan Sallitt to come out and do a low-key drama about a young woman (Talli Medel) having an unrequited and unresolved crush/fixation on her brother definitely caught my attention. I always like a more detached, intellectual approach to subject matter that might be a bit sordid because it allows the characters on display to behave rather unpredictably and not according to what one would want from them. In Sallitt’s The Unspeakable Act, we get introduced to an extremely laid-back family where it seems arguments and confrontations do not exist. The only drama that exists is the one binding the two siblings at the center, Jackie (Medel) and Matthew (Sky Hirschkron) and even that involves them only as it’s mostly an abstract concept narrated by Jackie in voice-over.

It turns out, Jackie has harbored an unusual and borderline unhealthy fixation towards Matthew. It also becomes clear that he is aware of it because he sets clear boundaries between himself and Jackie. When he brings home a girlfriend she is so inwardly upset (while acting completely against how she feels) that she becomes unable to eat until Matthew breaks up with her. Hope sets in and Jackie conspires to have her feelings met, but it’s clear this is not an option. Somewhat resigned, Jackie then goes see a therapist and persists in being rather passively hostile, almost as a defense mechanism in which she both hurls words as sharp as knives towards the therapist, which is in reality, Jackie attempting to equal parts diminish her unhealthy attraction and perhaps self-punish herself for feeling this way.

Sallitt never ratches up the tension in Jackie’s family and the most one will see is both siblings meeting for what may seem one last time before diverging, and Matthew informing that she has finally crossed that unspoken line, This is the type of movie I love; it may not be perfect — both the mother and the other sister were underwritten and sometimes Jackie’s narration can go into too much exposition (as if Medel’s performance, equal parts alienating and intriguing were to get lost in translation somehow), Sallitt dedicates his work to French director Eric Rohmer and I can definitely see some influence without it taking away from Sallitt’s own style. Too many directors who have been influenced by other more established directors tend to emulate their style in a way that seems imitation. Sallitt, on the other hand, drops references but never steals. That, in essence, is what a narrator wants — he can wear all the influences he ha on his sleeve but they shouldn’t scream imitation or worse, reenactment down to scene selections.

And with that, I was ready to see his latest film Fourteen.

Image from Cine-Vue. Talli Medel (left) and Norma Kuhling (right in Fourteen

Fourteen

Some bonds are stronger than family. You meet that person and they become linked to you for better or worse. In Dan Sallitt’s fourth feature film Fourteen, he presents two young women who may as well be sisters from another mother. Mara (Talli Medel) and Jo (Norma Kuhling) couldn’t be any more different if they tried… but that is precisely the unseen glue that has held them together since they were fourteen. The incident that sparked their friendship was when Jo intervened in a situation where Mara was being bullied at school. From then on, they’ve been inseparable, even linked through the other’s absence.

The problem is that childhood friends grow up and with that, they grow apart. That they may not acknowledge it is contingent on how aware they are, and it seems that now the roles have progressively reversed. Mara has gotten her life together as a teacher’s aid who aspires to be a writer and is dating a great, stable guy. Jo, on the other hand, seems to have her own life in shambles… and it’s about to go from bad to worse.

Sallitt never indicates a precise timeframe to tell his story. We get no subtitles or title cards announcing a transition but infer, from the friend’s reunions, how much time has transpired. After the first scene in which both Mara and Jo and their respective boyfriends hang out and make small talk, we move to a progressive separation. Mara is married; Jo is not, and has started to become dependent on drugs to survive. A frantic call leads Mara to rush to Jo’s aid only to be cooly rebuffed by Jo’s enabler boyfriend. Jo later calls Mara in the middle of the night (after having canceled a dinner event) and shows up, ostensibly to vent out her multitude of problems. That Mara allows Joe to essentially ruin her marriage is toxic in itself, but speaks volumes for those who have been caught in that kind of friendship devoid of boundaries when one friend clearly has mental and emotional disturbances.

I kept thinking of another film in which two women — sisters, this time — sustained a friendship in which one of them slid into depravity while the other attempted to help and eventually got her own life in order: Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Now, hear me out: this is not that movie for obvious reasons. Goodbar was a movie in which two women diverged in life and the more tragic one spun into butter, essentially getting murdered viciously in the end. Take away the violence and focus the movie on a more restrained approach and you have a different rendition. Fourteen presents both women as equal, although this time Medel carries the less showy part and lets Kuhling move from false poise to defeat in 90 minutes. Kuhling’s performance is on-target for anyone with a Borderline Personality Disorder, and it is truly a wonder to see how much tragedy she conveys while on screen. The shame is that while she implicitly seems to be crying for help, a person like Jo would never truly accept it and only return to the festering wound that is killing her slowly.

Fourteen is, to put it bluntly, Sallitt’s best work and as close to a masterpiece in presenting two fully formed women interlocked in a codependent relationship. It is so far one of the best that I have seen this year in transit — rent it, and experience its universe. It is available to stream on Grasshopperfilm.com and you should see it.

The Children of Dora Maar School take control in Eric Baudelaire’s UN FILM DRAMATIQUE

It’s not that I don’t go see documentaries; I do, but usually I tend not to review them being I find that the medium, while visual, is more presentational and discursive rather than a strict narrative. Of course, for the past decade or so the medium has been morphing and delving into meta-narration, docu-fiction, and docs-dramas or a hybridization of visuals and exposition to create something completely new and challenging to the viewer. Eric Baudelaire’s Un Film Dramatique — Americanized as A Dramatic Film for its 2020 release — is one example. A movie I missed at the New York Film Festival, I managed to see it at The Contenders at the MoMA with barely a notion that it was a filming of the lives of a group of children at the new Dora Maar School in the outer limits of Paris, and that it played at Locarno to great acclaim. As a matter of fact, Festival Scope had it for a solid month in September in its Locarno section and I, occasional documentary watcher that I am, kept pushing it farther and farther back until it became unavailable until it made its second appearance at The Contenders. So, lucky me to have seen it and share it with you.

[For those of you who don’t know what The Contenders at the MoMA is, it is a screening of films that either premiered in the current year or were screened at film festivals around the world that bring a heavy quota of artistic value to cinema. It runs annually from November to January at the MoMA and I strongly urge movie lovers who aren’t aware of it go at least once and experience a new film or revisit one that somehow stuck in the memory for its bold visuals.]

Baudelaire began filming at the Dora Maar school what would have been a more traditional documentary (it seems), but eventually morphed into the movie that took on a life of its own. Twenty-one children for a period of about four years documented aspects of their own lives, sometimes in playful manners, other times in rather precocious discussions of class, race, politics (it becomes clear none of them care much for Marine Le Pen or our current sitting president), and the plight of immigrants in Paris where, much like here, if you do not have a reason to be in France you will be unceremoniously asked to leave. For such a large cast — we get introduced to them sometimes in groups, but sometimes in solo vignettes — Baudelaire assembles a rather colorful collage of living in the Seine-Saint Denis area of Paris, a jurisdiction often referred to by its administrative number 93, a number associated with ghetto, poverty, and low-income families. Some of the children — including friends Guy and David — are extremely outspoken, while one of the girls, Fatima, has no idea what to say to the camera and instead quietly films herself going about the day at home. Another group of girls wonder the fate of their friend who moved to a “place with palm trees” and debate to whether she may be still in France or perhaps the Caribbean. [It turns out, she moved to Reunion.]

This is a wonderful experimental film in which children express themselves in simple interactions with the camera and amongst themselves, and in a way, due to its time-lapse, could even have elements of a coming of age film. Often incisive as well as laugh out loud funny solely based on these incredibly bright, observant children, A Dramatic Film emerges as a commentary on what the future will be like once these kids grow into their adult selves. hoper Baudelaire will do something in the likes of Michael Apted’s ongoing, similar experimental Up series (now in its ninth iteration, 63 Up, which I will be reviewing once it makes its debut In theaters).

THE GOLDFINCH examines grief and loss through the thread of a bird caught in canvas.

THE GOLDFINCH. Country: USA. Director: John Crowley. Screenwriter: Peter Straughan. Based on the Pulitzer Prize novel by Donna Tartt. Cast: Oakes Fegley, Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Luke Wilson, Sarah Paulson, Finn Wolfhard, Aneurin Barnard, Willa Fitzgerald, Ashleigh Cummings, Dennis O’Hare. Language: English, Ukrainian, Danish, French. Released: September 13, 2019. Runtime, 150 minutes.

Mostly Indies rating: C+

Right on the heels of having watched It, Chapter Two, comes the adaptation of yet another massive novel, Donna Tartt’s polarizing novel The Goldfinch, a piece of work that has been labeled as both the best and the worst thing that has happened to the English language as of late. So its not a shock that a book that would engender such sentiment in the literary world would also stir some equally difficult feelings once its conversion to cinema was made a reality. Of course, that is exactly what happened, with the first reviews arriving right on cue with not much good to say about the movie, noting its richness of visuals, but lack of a central heart, its length, its shallow depiction of grief, uneven acting on behalf of some of its cast, and the choppy time jumps in which we begin at the end and go back only to do so over and over again. I for one did not see anything wrong with the time-jumps; somehow, I felt at ease with the technique. What probably helped me ease into the “Dickensian” story (yes, that too has littered one too many reviews of this movie; I won’t give it that comparison, sorry) was that I knew next to nothing about it. I haven’t read the book and since have begun it. Like 2018s The Wife, I leapt to cinemas solely on the basis of a) the trailer and b) Glenn Close and boy, was I stunned to see not only a performance with a capital P, but a lean story that opened itself up, revealing layers and layers of hurt, betrayals, sacrifice, and selfless love that would have been better off in a more deserving man. [The book, while good, is actually less compelling.] Anyway, so I went to see The Goldfinch and I have to say, it is a handsome, well-told story of a boy facing unimaginable loss and having to come through using only his wits and the one element glueing himself to the ground: the 1654 Fabritius painting of a goldfinch, captive in time and space on canvas. To see his eventual growth and incursion into the underbelly of society while haunted for the entirety of it, almost like an outsider looking into a car crash in slow motion, is sad enough as it is, and both actors — Oakes Fegley and the baby-faced Ansel Elgort carry the story more or less successfully. However, let me say, despite that I enjoyed The Goldfinch, I never felt that the story itself was, however, too compelling: perhaps there was a true lack of mystery to it nd not much angst, or emotional highs and lows, and holding the audience rapt for two and a half hours only to reveal its cards at the very end, while it is fitting, comes off as a bit underwhelming when much of the events are somewhat muted and not too interesting. If at all, seeing solid actors try their best (although Sarah Paulson does a massive faux pas in a scene when she gets so emotional over a tragic loss that it takes her into another movie entirely, considering how bitchy her character has been, but I’m still okay with that) is all that one can ask of a movie adaptation of a book. It could have been worse, and no, this is not even close to the triumphant disaster that was The Bonfire of the Vanities — that was just gross negligence to bring any coherence to a satire. The Goldfinch is a well told yarn that should he a self-contained miniseries. It is, not, by any means, Dickensian. Let’s just say, it’s Dickens-lite for the novice. There are many of these novels around with stock characters you’ve seen in many other movies and plot developments that you can predict in your sleep. Does it deliver? Yes, Is it solid? Yes? Now, will you remember this tomorrow?

No.

it: chapter two

IT: CHAPTER TWO. Country: USA / Canada. Director: Andy Muschietti. Screenwriter: Gary Dauberman. Based on the novel by Stephen King. Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgard, Jasden Martell, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Chosen Jacobs, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Teach Grant, Nicholas Hamilton, Javier Botet, Xavier Dolan, Taylor Frey, Molly Atkinson, Joan Gregson, Stephen Bogaert. Language: English. Release date: September 6, 2019. Runtime: 170 minutes.

Mostly Indies rating: A–

Well, it’s here, it stormed into the box office and the story is told. Stephen King can rest knowing that even when the movie version of his much-beloved (and massive) 1986 novel “It” may never see a sufficiently dark and terrifying version without some significant alteration of the source of the horror, it goes without saying that at least the film version comes out swinging.

Truth be told, it is never an easy task to adapt a Stephen King novel. Much of the final story in It, for example, takes place in the astral plane and has ties to his Dark Tower macroverse, that to depict that one lengthy sequence would be next to impossible. Also, to its detriment, how scary can a clown truly be to kids raised on social media, YouTube, and a million other apps that can be conduits for the real horror: child predators? I’m going to have to say that in a way, It the movie is less scary this time, geared to hardcore Stephen King fans who have been reading him since Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and The Shining (the latter two who have yet to receive a truly gripping adaptation), but still, a compulsive watch.

So here we are, not quite back where we left off (although the first sequence, with the young Beverly (Sophia Lillis) apparently underwater, in a scene that recalls the moment she went into the deadlights — which thankfully get much more screen time here. Flash forward to today, 27 years later, when Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan) gets the extremely savage end of homophobia and meets an indescribable end at the hands of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), who’s come out from the dark and is, let’s say, “hangry” with a chip on his shoulder. Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), who’s since been devoted to tracking Pennywise’s every move before and after their apparent first defeat (and who seems certifiably bonkers; trauma has a way of clinging onto you well after the horror is over), now has to deliver the stomach-churning phone call to his six other childhood friends, not knowing if they will even respond or take his call. They do, in an excellent montage, the adult Losers are introduced with the barest of backstories presented. Bill (James McAvoy) is a successful horror novel writer who’s books end badly. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is an abused housewife. Ben. (Jay Ryan) is a successful executive. Richie (Bill Hader, in a standout performance, mind you), is a stand-up comic going through a hard time. Eddie (James Ransone) is a limo driver. And finally, Stan (Andy Bean), who takes the call the hardest.

With the knowledge that It, the creature they once defeated, has returned, the remaining members of the Losers Club reunite in Derry. As it tends to happen, memories, long since repressed and buried, start to resurface, and with that, the ancient traumas, Of course, the question arises, why bother? They’re grown adults, what could they possibly be doing back in the town where they escaped from? Isn’t that what everyone does? Beverly, however, seen in the first frame of the movie, delivers the news: while under the deadlights, she saw them all dead. They have to go back, destroy the past, to be rid of it once and for all, and for them, that means performing the fated Ritual of Chud.

A huge chunk of the movie, from now on, becomes the six of them (well, really five; Mike has been here all along) walking through town, trying to pick up elements from their haunted past, in order to reunite later on. Of all of the solo scenes, Beverly’s was the one that stood out the most simply because her horror — which Pennywise in the novel manipulated) — is too real to ignore. When Pennywise appears to her in the body and shape of her father (Stephen Bogaert), without a dime of prosthetics, it’s more frightening than any of his disguises, which the movie curiously doesn’t use to its advantage. Another scene, this time not involving any one of the main cast members but a little girl who has a mole on her face, is truly terrifying because of its sparseness of special effects and Pennywise’s distorted maw of anticipation.

Overall, It is a solid piece of work that seen as a whole alongside the first movie will reveal a director who understands childhood fears and the genre, but also, reveal flaws in King’s own narrative. It is no secret that King nowadays, free of any editing constraints, has made a habit of producing extremely long works of fiction that go on and on for pages, chapters, even entire sections, without advancing the plot, The motive is to bring forward not just backstory, but a credible universe for people to see where his characters, good, bad, major, and even minor, are coming from. That in the literary world is okay — eventually you realize you will get to where the “meat” of the story is. However when translating into cinema, it just does not work. A lengthy scene where Bill rediscovers his old bike serves one self-indulgent pat-in-the-back moment. It is for fans only. Towards the end we are given a double dose of a similar scene from the first when Bill first encountered Pennywise in the flooded basement and near the end when the Losers go into the sewers. A little editing could have worked.

Also, and I’m just realizing it now: absent from both movies is Derry itself. Derry is supposed to be a haunted small town. Pennywise, a creature who defies explanation and whose presence alone could drive a person insane within seconds, feeds on the town’s residents equally, magnifying their adult prejudices and petty motives until they reach criminal levels (hence, the murder of Adrian Mellon) while still feeding on children. Derry as a character is corruption itself, a tainted place that offers no solace, no comfort, and the nagging feeling that some invisible, omnipresent evil is over them, literally playing them against each other like a puppet master. [It is a theme King started in Salem’s Lot and would revisit again in The Stand and Needful Things.] It’s a crying shame that this wasn’t woven into the fabric of the narrative except for the very first portion of the 2017 movie. It would have made the entire setting even more disturbing for the adults who come back, making their return to trauma even more horrible to stomach.

And lastly, presenting Pennywise continually as a clown eventually wears itself thin. In the book, he (it) was anything: a constant shapeshifter who was out for revenge against the “others” who had maimed it. At least, the battle of wills is done in a striking, clever, and even poignant way, something I would not have seen coming. So, for all its missteps, which even involve the use of CGI to make some of the kids look younger than they do and some awful use of Javier Botet as a bouncing horror that threatens Jessica Chastain, It delivers, does not include room for a potential sequel, and is now, over.

Olivia Wilde smashes it out of the ballpark with her sharply funny BOOKSMART

Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, the stars of Olivia Wilde’s excellent coming of age comedy Booksmart.

BOOKSMART. Director: Olivia Wilde. Cast: Kailtyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Billie Lourd, Mason Gooding, Victoria Ruesga, Molly Gordon, Eduardo Franco, Diana Silvers. Screenwriters: Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susana Fogel, Katie Silberman. Language: English. Runtime 105 minutes. US Release date: May 24, 2019. Venue: Regal Battery Park, NYC, NY. Rating A.

The other day I was reading a news item after seeing Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart that the film was apparently, set to fail. I’m not sure how a movie that has grossed three times its budget to make, as of this writing, just about 20 million dollars can be called a failure, but perhaps part of the reason has to do with the fact that this is a movie made by women. And the aftertaste of having digested this information with the movie’s creative spark had me thinking, would critics and everyone else who believes this say the same thing if Booksmart had been directed by, let’s say, Paul Dano? [Nothing against Dano; he’s one of those directors I think we should pay attention to and an even better actor who can equally make me laugh while also feeling creeped out as he did in Swiss Army Man in 2016.]

I’m going to reply to myself with a resounding no. You see, old habits die hard and Hollywood, who in its infancy was teeming with women screenwriters and directors and some actresses even got into producing, still doesn’t seem to get it that women are perfectly capable of delivering entertaining material and still make a killing in the box office.

Olivia Wilde clearly knows her medium and blasts it out of the ballpark with this her debut film, no easy feat considering how many first time directors there are. Her story is close to home to anyone who goes see this movie who had a less than memorable high school. Amy (Kailtyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) have been best friends forever, but their friendship, which also carries a heavy dose of dependency, have branded them as pretentious by their classmates. Added to the equation is that Amy has been out for two years now and has a schoolgirl crush on another girl, Ryan (Victoria Ruesga), while Molly also harbors a crush on popular guy Nick (Mason Gooding).

On the day before graduation, Molly overhears some of her classmates deriding her and decides to confront them, using the fact that she’s scored next to perfect grades that will ensure her future in a prestigious college and they won’t have amounted to anything other than this moment. To her surprise, all of the students also have made it into prestigious colleges, which comes as a blow to her ego. Realizing that all this time she and Amy have been seen as boring (because all they’ve done is study and eschew social gatherings), they come to the realization that they’ve got only one last send off to crash, and it’s the one Nick is throwing. Everyone will be there. However, that turns out to be easier said than done; when you’ve been the outsider for so long and the only reason classmates call or text you is to find out class assignments, chances of you knowing where the party to be will take place are slim to none.

So the girls use all their investigative abilities to find out where the party’s at. Wilde keeps her story going from one disastrous scenario to the next as Amy and Molly edge closer to Nick’s party. The laughs come fast and furious all throughout, from an over the top yacht party they crash, to a murder mystery whodunit, to sitting in s cab driven by their principal who also has an iPad full with porn, to sitting in what may be a serial killer’s car (which bothers them not a bit, since he moonlights as a pizza delivery man and delivered to Nick’s address), to finally, Nick’s party itself, which turns to hold some surprises of its own as practically everyone converges there for a night of debauchery and self-discovery.

If you want to see a smart and sharp comedy that despite its moments of complete WTF insanity loves its leading ladies and wants them to fit in, Olivia Wilde’s comedy is it. Amy and Molly’ friendship seems so lived in it would have been impossible for me to distinguish what was fictitious for what was real. It’s also because of this that the movie’s core — female friendship — remains strong. Booksmart, despite its high school is hell mantra, is rather harmless, good, riotous fun.

A dysfunctional relationship and a woman’s emerging voice is the core of THE SOUVENIR.

THE SOUVENIR, UK / USA. Director: Joanna Hogg. Cast: Honor Swinton-Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton. Screenwriter: Joanna Hogg. Language: English. Runtime 120 minutes. US Release date: May 17, 2019 (limited). Venue: Angelika Film Center, NYC, NY. Rating A +.

Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir is what I call an anti-romance, and an anti-mystery that in its own way propels its lead character into a discovery of herself, even if it comes at a hefty emotional price. This is not your run-of-the-mill romance even though it is dressed to perfection to look that way. Hogg also keeps a certain distance, reducing scenes to their bare essentials, to inflict a sense of observation of events at a near-documentary level without actually being one. That she is able to convey the sheer imbalance of the onscreen relationship and make the heroine, based in her own experience, come through, scars and all, is a true feat of a cinematographer who is able to perform a perfect marriage of knowing the material at hand and being able to convey the essence in a clear, tone-perfect voice.

The story at its basest level is one we have seen many times. Julie (Honor Swinton-Byrne in her film debut, who happens to be the daughter of Tilda Swinton, also in the movie as her mother) is a naive young girl who aspires to be a cinematographer in 1980s London. She crosses paths with Anthony (Tom Burke), a dashing young intellectual who has the appearance of a romantic bad boy straight out of Lord Byron’s narratives. Julie can’t help but be taken in by the man, who is seductive, knows the power of words and manipulation, and reels her into a relationship that from the get-go shows all its cracks and warning signs. However, Julie, for reasons only she can recall, instead of saying no and walking out, inches in and receives Anthony with almost abject passivity, as if he was someone she was expecting.

What I found at first somewhat off-putting, then increasingly meaningful, was the way Hogg positioned her scenes, staged from a somewhat distant point of view, as if she herself was an observer through a time capsule and was trying to analyze what was transpiring through the increasingly dysfunctional relationship that is Julie’s and Anthony’s. How else would you look back to your own life and see the mistakes you made? Hogg never questions it, but simply, recreates it and lets Julie and Anthony clash. There is a distinctly lived-in quality to how they interact with one another. One can’t help but notice how close to life it evolves, and that makes for a visceral, uncomfortable viewing. How many of us have seen people who didn’t even look like they truly liked each other but somehow relied on the other for some form of gratification and whispered, “Why are these even together?” How many times have we met that person who was completely off, but we tossed logic out the window in lieu of ‘experience’? Julie does try to eliminate Anthony out of her life after he all but wrecks it and leaves her a mess, but inexplicably, he creeps back in for one last act of damage; when he’s gone, which is not a spoiler by the way — you know there is no other way for this to end but in a ripping of noxious ties — it comes off as a relief. The final shot, where Julie faces us, the audience, is priceless, and shows how much the character, who held a tenuous relation to herself, has finally come home.

Now, at a technical standpoint, Hogg could have trimmed some scenes from the finished product. At two hours and fractured narrative, The Souvenir does run its course and will test the patience of movie lovers. Compounding the lived in, almost lifted by the eyes of French director Eric Rohmer feel, there is a sensation one is watching a story set in the distant past. At no moment did I get a feel of the 1980s when the film transpires. My safe guess is that Hogg’s approach was to establish a timelessness to the entire package and thus cement it in a ground of repetition, where dysfunction happens, and when it does occur, it is almost casual — no flourish, no over the top drama, it just exists, and accrues little by little until the abuse of trust has become normalized. That, perhaps, led me to at first dislike the movie. It’s no wonder it bites, and does so with teeth a bit too sharp for its own good.

In terms of performances, Honor Swinton-Byrne is the early revelation of the year, and while her character often frustrates, she brings forth the evolution of Julie’s arc to its completion. Tom Burke is infuriating as the psychopathic Anthony — there were times I wanted to scream into the camera and drive him away from Julie. That speaks quite a bit of a performance. Tilda… well, shes Tilda. As for the film? It’s striking, confounding, unnerving, unsatisfying, frustrating, cold, observational, but also, a triumph of a diarist’s description of a problematic relationship with only one solution.

SAMEBLOD

SAMEBLOD
Sweden/Norway/Denmark
Director: Amanda Kernell
Runtime: 110 minutes
Language: Swedish/Saami

Mostlyindies Grading:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

When you think of Swedish cinema you don’t think once about how it reflects the Saami culture because truth is, it doesn’t. It took a young female director of Saami ethnicity to bring her own culture to cinematic life as she does in Sameblod (Sami Blood). Sameblod is a coming of age story loosely based on Kernell’s grandmother and stems from a short Kernell presented at Sundance in 2015. That film touched the Saami experience from the point of a view of an old woman who attends her sister’s funeral. For reasons left unknown (and therefore, unresolved), she distanced herself from her sister, and thus, from her own culture, adopting Swedish mannerisms and its language.

What we get in the full-length feature film is a more descriptive narration of the woman as a teenage girl living in what was then known as Lapland. In Sweden, Saami’s have little choice (even now) for advancement; in the 1930s, when the story is based, they were even considered a medical anomaly, presenting smaller than normal brains (according to then-scientists) and due to that, unqualified to live among the Swedes as “normal”. They could, however, go to boarding schools (as Elle-Marja and her sister Njenna do, but the chances of educational advancement is basically nil.

While at the boarding school, Elle-Marja’s identity gets stripped to its bare essentials from the get-go — an early scene of a man taking pictures of her naked body has the cruelty of the sound of lashes, something here in America we’re too acquainted with if we look into our relation to slavery. As her time at the boarding school grows longer, Elle-Marja is forced at one point to adopt a Swedish look in order not to appear out of place in a gathering. There she meets a handsome boy to whom she takes a liking to; however, her escapade results in a terrible backlash that forces her to make a decision and changer her life forever.

Even when she does find herself in a somewhat better place, Elle-Marja’s identity is never out of the question: students at another school passive-aggressively view her as an object, a clown, and Elle-Marja comes to the realization that in a world where being part of the elite is the norm, it also makes it impossible for people like her, born to a different culture, to fit in. Sameblod is a story that will resonate with many cultures — it indeed has a universal appeal — because of how we treat those we see and deem as marginalized. Kernell clearly has enormous empathy for her own lead character who, even when she gets put through the wringer, comes through as a survivor all her own in a poignant but utterly desolate final sequence. A striking debut.