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.
Martin Scorsese's Silence is a quietly brooding, meditative experience, a film that is expansive yet intimate in its deconstruction of organized religion, being in the end a film that is very much about the introspective, personal nature of spirituality and faith. Mature, honest, and quietly menacing, Silence chronicles the trials and tribulations of two Catholic missionaries during the seventeenth century, who travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor, a man who himself has believed to apostatized under the violence and persecution of Japan by the state, which views Catholicism as a plague on the land and its people. Film's touching on religion can be a bit tricky, yet what Scorsese has created with Silence is a deeply respectful, introspective examination of religion, one which is both fair yet critical, while ultimately recognizing the internal, personal aspect of spirtiuality, one which is always inward facing as opposed to extrospective. Quiet yet menacing, Silence is a film that has a sense of tension and danger that is very palpable throughout its running time, detailing the horrendous religious persecution and oppression of christians in Japan. These characters find themselves pushed to the very edge of sanity by the opressive, violent Japanese feudal regime, ultimately leading ot a crisis of faith by those who experience so much pain. Silence recognizes the imperialistic nature of missionaries throughout the film, yet its focus remains on the persecution and violence brought upon those who think differently, with one of its more important tangible qualties being how it laments for more tolerance between various cultures, whether that be the Japanese culture's treatment of Christians or the missionaries utter disregard for the customs and culture they wish to spread their beliefs. Allegiances, whether it be to the church or the state, create a fundamental conflict between individuals in the society in Silence, with the film touching on the utter importance of individualism, tolerance, and freedom, detailing how both these forces tend to conflict with each other, battling for supremacy over the individual. Silence details the tangible quality in which faith and religion has over those individuals who are deeply oppressed or persecuted, capturing the power of hope while also detailing the sadness related to so many dying simply for what they believe is right. The film doesn't pick sides in this, yet it does certainly suggest that religion, at least to some degree, is born from the very fires of violence and pain, exhibiting how those who suffer look for something they can confide in, in order to get by. Silence is the type of film which I imagine requires multiple viewings to unpack all of its thematic threads and ideals, but what stood out the most for me is how the film exhibits the fundamental, individualistic component that makes up faith. Silence details how faith and spirituality is very much a function of introspection and internal thought, being a film that asks for sacrifice, empathy, and selflessness in all individuals, regardless of where they draw their sense of empowerment from. Quietly brooding, introspective, and ultimately meditative about religious persecution and faith, Martin Scorsese's Silence is an expansive yet intimate story of humanity, a film that is honest yet critical of religion while simulatenously understanding that faith, by definition, is an internal, deeply personal thing.
Hirokazu Koreeda's After The Storm is a mature, nuanced study of paternity, accountabiliy, and personal growth, detailing the life of Ryota, a one-time prize-winning novelist whose become completely adrift, dwelling on his past successes while never looking towards the future, stuck in a perpetual state of self-inflicted doubt. A man who has effectively given up on life, Ryota's whole existence has become one based in deceit, a character who even lies to himself in a sense, pretending admirably to still be working towards his goal of rekindling his passion for writing, though he really spends nearly every dime he makes gambling, often having to ask his aging mother for money just in order to pay child support to his ex-wife. With the recent death of his father, a man who himself neglected his family, becoming utterly-infatuated with the quick score in life, Ryota begins to renew contact with that of his ex-wife and young son, Shingo, though his years of bad behavior, deceiit, and neglect, make it extremely hard for Ryota to reseize control of his life. A touching and empathetic character study of one man's struggle to put his life back together, After The Storm is an intimate yet grandoise study of the human condition, a film that has an existential quality to its simple, yet effective family drama story, one which captures the pursuit of happiness as it relates to being the person one envisions. After the Storm details the necessity of personal growth, detailing how we as individiuals are always evolving, exhibiting how it is never too late to attempt to fix past mistakes, with Ryota's struggles to reconnect with his young son being rooted in his own sense of defeat, blaming his environment for his failures rather than taking personal accountability for his actions. After The Storm on some level is about the importance of accountability, being a film that is empathetic to a deeply-flawed individual in Ryota while simultaneously capturing his lack of resolve. He is a man who simply isn't dedicated to being a better person for much of the film's running time, a man who struggles desperately to overcome his perceived weaknesses, and past failings as both a husband, father, and son. Koreeda's film never drifts into sentimentality, being an honest and heartfelt film about a flawed character, one thats tonally extremely well balanced, managing to be charming and whimsical at times while still succeeding in delivering some profound and universal truths about humanity in its deconstruction of a broken man whose deeply damanged by his failings. Through this characer study, Koreeda's After The Storm is a family drama that touches on the complexities of life, happiness, and connection, exhibiting the ever-evolving state of shared connection, detailing how it is never too late to become a better individual, regardless of past mistakes.
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