Alain Guiraudie's Staying Vertical is an enigmatic, challenging experience, a film which delivers its message of sexual repression and alienation through allegory and an unorthodox narrative which places more weight on character introspection and theme than on traditional storytelling values. Centered around Leo, a filmmaker who is on a scouting excursion in the South of France countryside, Alain Guiraudie's Staying Vertical paints a complex and beguiling portrait of a character who never feels at all comfortable in his own skin. A vagabond, who is homeless as he works on his next film, Leo is a very much a character in solitude, both physically and psychologically, who finds himself seduced by Marie, a free-spirited shepardess, while on his film scouting excursion. Nine months later, Marie gives birth to a child, but Leo is despondent, detached, and uninterested, sending Marie into post-natal depression, ultimately abandoning both Leo and the baby. Guiraudie's Staying Vertical is unconventional and quite brilliant, a story that evolves as it progresses, deceptive in its execution as it begins more as a story of paternity and the fear of domestication, while ultimately revealing itself to be a story of sexual repression, alienation, and seclusion. Everything about Leo is symbolic to his struggles as a homosexual man - his homeless, vagabond status being the most obvious indicator, a man who is drifting, out of place, unable to find somewhere he feels comfortable. Every interaction he has with male characters is full of sexual tension, with this repression and need for seclusion perhaps best represented by the allegorical nature of the relationship he forms with Marie's father, an older man who struggles to protect his sheep from the wolves in the plains in the south of France. There is a shared intimacy between these two characters, a repressed sexuality, with Guiraudie juxtaposing the nature of wolves and sheep with that of masculinity in society and how it treats homosexual men, with these two sexually repressed homosexual men being sheep, men who must appear heterosexual to the world, if not to be exposed and ridiculed for their differing sexual nature. Of course none of this is said throughout Guiraudie's film but it's built through mood and character, as the film always represents Leo as a man who is alone, but early on he is more confused about his sexuality, with the ending offfering him solace in a sense, the wolves being almost a symbolic representation of him accepting his sexual nature. Through much of the film, Leo's writer's block could very much be construed as an allegorical device to convey his confusion, with Guiraudie juxtaposing his struggles and confusion as a homosexual man with that of a filmmaker who struggles to complete a screenplay, an oddly satisfying decision as both art and sexuality are deeply individualistic in nature. Unorthodox, beguiling, yet ultimately satifying due to Guiraudie's uncanny ability to slowly reveal his intentions through symbolism and atmosphere, Staying Vertical is a powerful and intimate statement on sexual identity and the outside forces that can inflict harm on those individuals whose identity falls in the fringes of society.
Michael Dudok de Wit's The Red Turtle is a beautifully-realized, transcendent celebration of life, a minimalist film that features absolutely no dialogue, resounding in its pacifist fable of kindness, companionship, and love. Detailing the life of a castaway on a deserted tropical island, The Red Turtle is a film where reality, fantasy, and spirituality blur, tapping into the psyche of a character early on who is in a place of solitude, a victim to a myriad of thought, concerns, and fears. The arrival of a mysterious and mystical red turtle finds this man's loneliness broken, as he finds companionship in the form of a young woman, whose arrival herself on the island feels supernatural, granted in a sense by the passing of this mysterious, red turtle. Documenting the cycle of life of this man, who has a son with this woman, Michael Dudok de Wit's The Red Turtle is a beautifully realized examination of life itself, a film which manages to capture the preciousness of it by appreciating the fact that death itself is merely a part of life. A fable of rebirth, The Red Turtle is a bit ambiguous from a narrative perspective, as one could argue that everything which follows the arrival of the Red Turtle is merely a figment of a man's deteriorating psyche, but the message itself would remain very much the same, as the film taps into the preciousness of human connection, and the beautiful nature of the cycle of life. Minimalism is an ally to The Red Turtle's serene story, where reality, fantasy, and spirituality blur, with the film itself becoming a transformative experience, one which encapsulates the human experience in such a utterly unique and beautiful way. Featuring absolutely stunning hand-drawn animation that is minimalist is design, yet beautifully textured, vivid and alive, The Red Turtle is a stunningly beautiful piece of animated filmmaking, a film that dare I say is life-affirming in its humanizing qualities, being just the latest emotionally resonant and intellectually stimulating piece of work from Studio Ghibli.
Taking place in the not-to-distant, dystopian future where humanity has been ravaged by a mysterious fungal disease, turning the afflicted into flesh-eating 'hungries', Colm McCarthy's The Girl With All The Gifts is the latest film to take advantage of pop culture's zombie obsession, offering up one of the more unique spins on the subgenre. A film which manages to satisfy both those viewers who simply want their fix of bloodlust, as well as viewers who are looking for a little more introspection with their horror, The Girl With All The Gifts presents itself as a tense, thought-provoking, survival story, one that challenges the viewer to question the value of life, the desperation of survival, and ultimately the morality associated with the loss of any form of human life. Keeping the viewer in the dark early on as to what exactly is going on, The Girl With All The Gifts' opens on an army base in rural England, where we are introduced to a small group of children, hybrids, who crave human flesh but also retain the cognitive abilities. Endlessly experimented on in an attempt to find a cure by Dr. Caroline Caldwell, these children are kept under lock-and-key, something which Helen, a school teacher assigned to educate the hybrid children, grows somewhat tiresome of as she grows close to these children, specifically Melanie, an exceptional young woman. When the base is invaded by a host of 'hungries', Helen, Melanie, Dr. Caroline, and a few other soldiers manage to escape in the nick of time, which sets in motion an expedition of survival which in turn helps Melanie come to terms with exactly who and what she is. Colm McCarthy's The Girl With All The Gifts is a film that works more so than it doesn't due to it being more dedicated to its characters and thematic ideals about morality than serving the typical tropes of the zombie genre. The Girl With All The Gifts' doesn't even reveal itself as a zombie-style film until a good 30 minutes into the film, opting instead early on to build the sense of intrigue about its characters, establishing Melanie as a gifted, yet dangerous young woman, something which everyone on the base is fearful towards, except Helen, who sees Melanie as nothing more than a scared child. This attention to character early on in the film pays off in the back-half, as The Girl With All The Gifts revels itself as a rejection of barbarianism, using the tropes of the zombie genre to comment on humanities nature to fear what it doesn't understand, with Dr. Caroline being so driven to solve the cure that she rejects the obvious humanity of these hybrid children, individuals themselves who cognitively are barely any different than those unaffected by this harmful pathogen. Empathy over barbarianism is the film's overlying principle, deconstructing the morality associated with life itself, asking the fundamental question of whether extinguishing life is ever clearly justified. In a sense, The Girl With All The Gifts is a coming-of-a-age story, a survival narrative that finds young Melanie come to accept who she is, a character who comes to embrace those things which she herself cannot control, while discovering and finding comfort in who she is as a person. For those interested in another fun, violent, zombie-film, The Girl With All The Gifts should strike your fancy too, but it's the film's more introspective ideas related to morality and barbarianism that makes the film worth seeking out.
Annie J. Howell & Lisa Robinson's Claire In Motion is a quietly astute study of loss, grief, and acceptance, a film exploring the far-reaching effects tragedy has on the human psyche, detailing specifically the opportunity for self-discovery and introspection which can occur in the face of loss. Centered around Claire, a mother and wife, Claire in Motion follows a woman in utter disarray, whose life has been fundamentally uprooted psychologically due to the mysterious disappearance of her husband, who went missing after one of his more routine outdoor excursions. After nearly a month of searching, the police begin to call off their investigation and Claire's own son begins to grieve, an acknowledgement that his father is gone forever, yet Claire alone refuses to give up, maintaining a steadfast hope that he may still be out there somewhere. A psychological study of grief and eventual acceptance, Claire in Motion is a film that follows a woman who begins to be confronted with the notion she may not have known her husband as much as she previously believed, a character who finds herself emotionally sabotaged by learning of her husband's close relationship with a graduate student, Allison, one that was not sexually but psychologically intimate. Claire's attempt to understand her husband's disappearance, her utter-disregard for even acknowledging the possibility that he may be dead, is what leads her down a path of self-discovery, as she herself begins to realize that her husband himself had interests outside of standard academia, being drawn to Allison's more artistic, free-spirited way of doing things, a startling contrast from Claire's more academic, assertive type of attitude. While a character that was never physically intimate with her husband, Allison is still a character who comes off very threatening tp Claire, a shattering force that knows a great deal about Claire's husband, things Claire herself didn't even know. Claire is blindsided by such a large aspect of her husband's life being completely unknown to her, but it's through this tough relationship she forms with Allison that Claire herself eventually reaches a form of acceptance about her husband and his presumed death, coming to the realization that her and her husband's wants and desires as individuals from a psychological fulfillment point of view had drifted apart, with the film itself honestly and painfully exhibiting the type of confusion and vulnerability such a revelation can create on the psyche of a character such as Claire who herself is still simply trying to get by. From a visual perspective, Claire in Motion uses a lot of tight compositions throughout, creating a restrictive space for its main protagonist, one that beautifully exhibits the boxed-in, loneliness of a character whose emotions have left her in a prism of her own thoughts and fears, exhibiting a type of psychological intimacy through its visual design. Astute, observational, well-acted and crafted, Annie J. Howell & Lisa Robinson's Claire in Motion is a film about grief but eventually acceptance, being very much a film about a woman in Claire who begins to rediscover her own personal identity in the wake of tragedy and the vulnerability and confusion it can bring.
Emiliano Rocha Minter's We Are The Flesh is a hypnotic dissent into madness, a film which gleefully pushes and prods the viewer's limitations when it comes to horror, mainly from a psychological perspective, offering up an experience that is hard not to admire, even if the film's overall message remains unclear. The film is set in what appears to be some type of post-apocalyptic world, which finds a groveling, middle-aged man sifting through the rubble of a derelict building, solitary in his dedication to survival, astute in his actions, which remain mysteriously unclear. In search of food and shelter, two siblings encounter this enigmatic, perhaps necromantic man, who provides them with what they seek, but as time passes it becomes clear that malevolent forces are at play, with the diabolical and subversive actions of the middle aged man slowly consuming both siblings, leaving them with no conventional moral boundaries, only adhering to the primal, carnal instincts of violence and lust. A subversive, psychological horror experience which places far more weight on atmosphere and mood than cohesive ideas, Emiliano Rocha Minter's We Are The Flesh is an artistically told descent into madness, a film which features some brilliant use of both audio and video techniques, which together create an atmosphere of diabolical mystery and a brooding sense of unease. The middle-aged man's intentions are mysterious from the onset, but the film makes it rather clear early on that his intentions are rooted in some type of diabolical nature, being a character himself appears to come from a very primal nature of humanity, one where social stigmas are non-existent and desire itself reigns supreme. There appears to be some supernatural, malevolent force at play, which the man dedicates his life too, as if his god is rooted in carnal desires and dedicated to the destruction of all social inhibitions and interdictions. As these two siblings descend themselves into this primal state of being, We Are The Flesh has its moments of exploitation, pushing the envelope at times when it comes to both sexual deviance and violence, yet the film maintains a genuine artistry throughout its running time, one which encapsulates the horror, subversion, and brooding sense of unknown which gives the film a palpable sense of mood from start to finish. While We Are the Flesh's beguiling nature is sure to frustrate some viewers, the film's vague thematics are both a blessing and a curse, as the film's intentions could be interpreted via various socio-political commentaries. We Are The Flesh seems to have something to say about order and control, with its most palpable commentary being about social norms and the primal nature which exists. The film seems to suggest that we are all just animals, victims eventually to our primal desires for blood and lust yet it never fully and cohesively makes such a statement, though judging by the finale one could also argue it's a commentary on the need for secularism as well. The way the two siblings adhere to the middle-aged man and what he preaches feels rooted somewhat in the way many adhere to religious decree, with others joining the siblings in their descent into a primal nature, which inevitably feels very much like a cult. The finale pulls the rug out from the under the viewer in a sense too, with a member of this 'cult' walking out of this secluded, desolate building and into the busy streets of a major metropolitan area, almost as if the filmmakers' wish to present a commentary on the restrictive nature such decrees have over the individual. Both the siblings and others adhered to the middle-aged man's primal and carnal decree for much of the film, but by the end we the viewer learn that everything we thought is a lie - the post-apocalyptic setting is reveals as nothing more but a derelict building in the middle of a metropolitan area, with the filmmakers suggesting that these character's blind faith in the subversive beliefs of this man led them down a path full of violence and immorality. This of course is merely one attempt by yours truly to make some sense out of a rather enigmatic, beguiling slice of atmospheric horror, which of course is what makes Emiliano Rocha Minter's We Are the Flesh so alluring, the various interpretations it allows.
One of his earliest works, Claude Chabrol's The Cousins is a sly, intricate moral fable delivering a rather cynical, albeit honest portrait of life itself, one where circumstances and outcomes are rarely fair, being a film very much in-step with Charles Darwin's evolutionist theories centered around the survival of the fittest. The film is fixated on the relationship that unfolds between Charles, a young, naive, provincial man, and Paul, his cousin, a slightly older Parisian who lives a life of decadence, a pleasure-seeker who is always looking for his next fixation. Charles is a plodding, honest, and innocent character, a young man whose naiveity is slowly shattered by his interactions with Paul, a bourgeouis man whose carefree demeanor and fledging moralism are little obstacles to his never-ending string of successes. Whether it be academically or socially, Paul is a character who seems to always be one step ahead of the hardworking Paul, even at one point seducing one of Paul's love interest in Florence, doing so in an effort to prove his own superiority more so than anything else. Paul is a character who simply has never had to work hard for anything, with his priveledged existence often providing him with a much easier path than his hardworking cousin. A film which questions notions of good and evil through the juxtaposition of the sensitive, naive Paul, and the care-free, arrogant, Charles, Chabrol's The Cousins' is a story of innocence destroyed, delvering what could be best described as a Nietzschean-lens towards the morality of bourgeois. The Cousins is critical of a character who is capable of skating by in life without much effort, but while lots of similar films are biased in their assertions, particularly towards the evil aspects of money, The Cousins is a film that accepts that unfair aspects of life itself go far beyond monetary limitations, showing the viewer a character in Charles who works very hard but simply struggles to make something of himself in a world where he is such a loner, an outcast, compared to Paul and his more out-going, carefree, urbanites. While it's tempting to simply write off The Cousins as an exercise in nihilism, the film's finale rejects such simplification, finding Charles, for the first time in the entire film, confronted with the harsher realities of life. The circumstances which it took to shatter Charles' privledged worldview are extreme, yet it's in the film's finale moments that we find Charles at his most contemplative, confronted with the true stakes which exist for many in life, his own privledge unable to shade him from this any longer due to Paul's poor fate. One of Claude Chabrol's first features, The Cousins is a fascinating and well-made first entry by the celebrated french filmmaker, a film which explores moralism related to the bourgeouse, the privledged and the less priledged, a survival of the fittest story steeped in moral confrontations by its finale frame
A searing, psychologically-fueled romance about two characters whose codependence for one and other is fueled from their equally tragic pasts, Kim Nguyen's Two Lovers And A Bear is a singular love story, one that is both tragic yet beautifully-realized, a powerful examination of two lost souls who find some semblance of peace in their connection with one and other. Taking place in the cold, barren climate of the North Pole, Two Lovers and A Bear is the story that takes its time to reveal itself, establishing the tightknight relationship between Roman and Lucy, characters who seem very much in love. While these characters' codependency is noticeable from the very beginning, the film remains opaque as it relates too what exactly these two characters are escaping by working in this desolate location, though it remains clear that each character was born in one way or another, out of tragedy and pain. Two Lovers and A Bear is a film that the viewer has to stick with, as it takes awhile to get going, only showing the emotional distress of both Lucy and Roman early on, capturing their vulnerabilities, insecurities, and emotional scars while simulateneously revealing little else, a tactic that establishes their codependency for one and other early on. The film's emotional beats and characterizations feel almost forced early on due to this lack of context, yet the film remains confident in its storytelling, eventually evolving into a fascinating love story. Without going into too much details here, Lucy and Roman are two characters who are deeply psychologically broken, borderline unstable, each finding their sole sense of love, solice, and purpose in life from one and other. Through impressionistic, surreal moments, Kim Nguyen reveals the inner psyche of these two characters, individuals who effectively have been given a reason to live due to their love for each other, the only thing which seems to relieve them of their psychological distress caused from dark, horrible pasts. Fear is a bedside companion for both these characters, yet it's their love for one and other that helps give each these characters something to live for, each finding some semblance of peace and happiness within each other, as Kim Nguyen's Two Lovers and A Bear finds a very unique way to capture how much strength can be provided to an individual by just feeling loved by another. The artic setting of course is perfect for Kim Nguyen's unique love story, the barren, cold, desolate climate being the perfect environment to illicit the underlying psyche of its two main characters, each of which have struggled with loneliness and despair, the utter-isolation of the artic being a proxy for their psychological states. The finale of Two Lovers and A Bear is one shrouded in tragedy on the surface, yet it's quietly uplifting in a lot of ways due to the hardship and psychosis the viewer has witnessed through much of the film's running time, as we find these two two tortured souls embracing in each others arms as the lights go out, each finding peace, free from their emotional scars and the hardships that plagued them all their lives. Surreal, transfixing, and difficult to experience at times, Kim Nguyen's Two Lovers and A Bear is a singular love story, a film which profoundly captures the paramount importance of love and companionship by examining two deeply tortured souls, individuals whose own deep-brooding pain is only remedied at times by the love they have for one and other.
Mike Mills' 20th Century Women is a beautiful ensemble story encapsulating the ups and downs of life itself. A film that never gets too wrapped up in plotting or its coming-of-age narrative, Mike Mill's latest effort instead focuses on delivering strong characterizations from top-to-bottom of its ensemble cast, documenting the trials and tribulations of a makeshift family unit living in Santa Barbara, California in 1979. Centered around Dorothea Fields, a determined single mother in her mid-50s who is raising her adolscent son, Jamie, absent of his father, 20th Century Women is centered in a time of cultural change and youthful rebellion, a time which puts additional strain on Dorothea as she fears she can't provide her son with all the tools necessary to thrive in an ever-evolving world. Enlisting two younger women in Abbie, a free-spirited artist who herself is going through some trying times, and Julie, a provocative teenage girl who Jamie himself is infatuated with, Dorothea is determined to make sure her son gains the necessary perspectives to excel in life, ulimately learning that Jaime's upbringing must be scoped by a combination of forces she can and cannot control. 20th Century Women plays like a dysfunctional family story, and I mean that in the best possible way, being a very honest film in which every character is trying to find themselves, sifting through the various complications of life. The film never pretends that any of these characters have all the answers, each of them routinely stumbles and falls, yet it's through the relationships they share with each other which ultimately drives them all forward during a time of change and uncertainty. Annette Bening's lead performance as Dorothea truly stands out, with Bening doing an exquisite job at balancing this complex character, a very strong woman whose always done things her way, yet has recently had underlying insecurities come tot he surface, fearing that she herself may not be enough for her son when it comes to teaching him how to be a proper adult and man. All the characterizations throughout Mike Mill's latest film are so well defined, organic, and alive, each aided by Mike Mill's unique structure and style, which provides a truly vibrant, lived-experience, giving this character ensemble a kinetic energy from start to finish. Forgiveness and compassion feel like major aspects of 20th Century Women, with the film being not only a coming of age story or period piece but even more so a story about the importance of accepting people for who they are, understanding that all of us have flaws. These characters, all with their own personal shortcomings and struggles are in the middle of a maternal bond with Annette Bening's Dorothea, but they all, including her son, provide learnings too, an honest and important aspect of the human condition that is captured beautifully from Mike Mill's 20th Century Women.
Jim Jarmusch's Paterson is a quietly vibrant, beautifully realized examination of the truly paramount nature of creative expression, a film that is nuanced in its approach but assured in its execution, quietly delivering an astute study of what defines an artist. Set in the city of Paterson, New Jersey, Jim Jarmusch's film chronicles the day-to-day life of Paterson, a bus driver, who adheres to a simple routine. His life is one of monotony, driving the same daily bus route and walking the same dog every night, stopping by the same bar to have exactly one beer, then returning home to his wife, Laura. What gives this man vibrance is also a part of his daily routine, as Paterson writes poetry nearly every chance he gets, whether it be during his lunch break or buried away in the basement when he has time at home to himself. His wife, Laura, is also a character who is infatuated with expressing herself, but her way of doing so is often changing, fixated more on the notion of being remembered or appreciated than Paterson himself appears to be. It's the contrast between these two characters in which Jaramusch's film creates its most salient point about art, touching on how it is first and foremost a very individualistic endeavor, one that comes deep from within, with its connection to others being secondary, as all of humanity often shares the same types of emotional complexities. The film doesn't wish to vilify Paterson's girlfriend Laura for her sporadic, every changing ways of expressing herself, but Jarmusch certainly pokes fun at this character, being a woman whose expressive personality is unfocused, fixated on the wrong ideals, yet still vibrant and alive. One could even make the argument that Jarmusch, in teasing this character, is making a point about artistic expression being a personal endeavor, with her flimsy, sporadic forays into artistry not being deeply profound or meaningful, yet they give her vibrancy and life, as she herself finds her own way of expressing herself in a way she sees fit for her. Paterson as a character is so beautifully defined, a man whose inner-workings aren't always accessible to the viewer, and yet his observant eye towards everyone around him speaks volumes about the type of man he is. Always looking around him, Paterson is a character who draws from his environment to fuel his own form of individualistic expression, with the conversations he eavesdrops serving his own work. Jim Jarmusch's film is built around this ideal that art is the great equalizer, with personal expression being something that keeps this character vibrant, happy, and alive, despite his rather mundane existence. When an unexpected event occurs involving Paterson's notebook, the film features one of the most emotionally devastating moments in cinema this year, yet it's only temporary, as the film uses this tragedy to further dissect the importance of artistic expression. The destruction of Paterson's notebook serves as a symbolic representation of art being a deeply personal thing, while tragic at first, it signifies how while his wife's vision of "fame" and "shared expression" is shattered, at least momentarily, yet the written words are simply a materialistic manifestation of Paterson's expression, something that can be replaced eventually due to the fact that his true creativity and artistic expression can never be extinguished as long as his heart keeps beating. Through Paterson's simple, yet profound journey, Jim Jarmusch beautifully expresses how one's profession, how they make their living, has nothing to do with what defines them as a human being, creating a powerful and beautifully realized portrait of how our own forms of expression, often artistically, is what defines our true worth as individuals.
Pablo Larrain's Neruda is an ode to the transcendent qualities of art, a film far more interested in framing the power artistic expression has on the individual and the collective consciousness than it does have on any type of political commentary. A liberal biopic about Chilean politician Pablo Neruda, who became a fugitive in his home country in the late 1940s due to his affiliation with the communist party, Pablo Larrain's Neruda is truly ambitious in its execution, delivering a hodgepodge of tones which ocillate between introspective and slapstick, a film that is laudable in its ambitions regardless of the fact that it feels somewhat unsatisfying in the end. A film that is essentially framed as a dualing narrative between Pablo Neruda & a determined police inspector, Óscar Peluchonneau, Larrain's film never fully realizes the potential of its story, as both these characters themselves quest for some type of power, whether it be proving their respective worth or being put in charge of a whole country. The lust for power and control in government, regardless of the faction in charge of the state, is an interesting antidote Neruda touches on but never develops, intent instead of being a film about the transcendntal power of art, naively believing the empathetic idea that anyone "for the people", is intrinsically good for them. Neruda himself, a member of the bourgeois, lacks the humility necessary to understand the true plight of the downtrodden, with the film suggesting that his empathic nature toward the impoverished being more than enough to trust. Perhaps the film's most interesting component is how it captures the relationship we all share with one and other, demonstrating the drifting ideologies, the conflictions and in the end the resolutions that must be made for all individuals to be free. This is best realized through the encounter between Neruda and a Capitalist landlord who helps him escape towards the end, with the two having a shared dissatifisaction with the fascist state, one which restricts the freedoms of the people. Pablo Larrain's films tend to excel in mimicking the aesthetic of the time period they wish to exhibit, and Neruda is no different, featuring a hazy, muted aesthetic that perfectly transports the viewer back to the era in time, with the night photography in particular delivering an impressionistic sense of tension and danger. Idiosyncratic, Pablo Larrain's Neruda is a film that structure feels framed more like a piece of poetry than a novel, an ode to the everlasting effect art has over all of us, a film that triumphantly captures the clashing ideologies and the shared humanity we must all have for the individual, regarless of one's political affiliation.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.