Alex Ross Perry's Golden Exits is a introspective study of family, relationships, and self; a relatively plotless film which aims to unearth and explore the various aspects of companionship, desire, and self-satisfaction that make any meaningful relationship an ongoing, always evolving construct. Playful in its formalism, Golden Exits implores an intersectional narrative about two families and places a young foreign girl directly in the middle; a character who inevitably becomes the catalyst for the surfacing of underlying tensions in both households where existential dread, unhappiness, deceit, and the general malaise of everyday life has begun to take its toll. Imploring a heavy use of fades for transitional shots, Golden Exits manifests itself as a series of vignettes, providing slices-of-life over the course of a few months where we are able to get both intimacy and scale in its many wonderful characterizations. The cinematography is often tight, claustrophobic, and in turn intimate; with Perry's lens aiming to capture the emotional intimacy visually that he does through written word. The writing style of Alex Ross Perry is introspective yet theatrical; with various diatribes and bits of dialogue walking a fine-line between being introspective and overwrought. In this regard, Golden Exits does feel a little inorganic or masturbatory in its prose during various moments, but the film counteracts this with a general emotional honesty and maturity that is hard to ignore. Golden Exits is the type of film that is "about nothing" and in turn about everything; one which taps into a wide array of emotions through its various hots of characters; each of which is struggling to find their version of happiness. While perhaps not for everyone due to its pliable formalism, Golden Exits is a journey through the unspoken and unsurfaced emotional baggage of day-to-day life, one which provides a resonant and existential portrait of self and companionship.
An honest, mature work, Vincent Minnelli's Some Came Running is a dense tapestry of familial conflict, class hierarchy, and moral relativism, providing one of the most poignant deconstructions of social capital every committed to celluloid. Through its traditional linear narrative formalism, Same Came Running reveals the toxic nature which social capital can have not only on the individual, but society as a whole, as the film follows Dave Hirsh, a disenfranchised veteran returning from the war to his hometown of Parkman, Indiana. The formal definitions of protagonist and antagonist by-and-large ring hallow in Some Came Running, as every character, from Dave, to his successful businessman brother, Frank, are given dimension and depth. Same Came Running reveals the subjective nature of morality through its exploration of social capital, revealing how a character's general empathy and humanism is rarely accurately defined by either societal norms or social status. Frank and Dave are brothers placed on different sides of society, due to there class or status, yet as the film progresses Some Came Running reveals their true characters as human-being, one which goes against the social expectations. Frank is respected in society, a man whose become just as concerned with his image/status in larger society as he is with the genuine well-being of his brother, a man whom has just returned home from the war. Frank isn't a vicious character, he isn't mean-spirited, he is just oblivious, one whose self-centered nature has manifested itself to new extremes due to his financial success, as the weight of social capital, and what he could stand to lose, begin to strain his familiar relationships, in particularly with his "lower-class" brother. Frank's characterization is essentially one about the darker implications of American culture, one in which self determination can blind oneself from the importance of general humanism and empathy. Frank thinks he cares about his brother's success and well-being but it's merely a warped deception, as it's autocratic in nature, driven by his Frank's own desires for his brother to do in life what is expected of him to do. Yet as the narrative unfolds, Frank is the one whose decisions directly and indirectly bring large potential harm to those around him, his adultery not only a heinous deception to his wife, but also one that inevitably sends his daughter down a seedy path. To the audience, Frank is a character who projects he has it all together, but he doesn't', while Dave is never presented that way; Dave has problems, we know it, but we respect him more due his ability to be honest with himself, his unwillingness to dictate the lives of others while not adhering to societal demands. Dave isn't an autocrat, he simply wants to live life the way he sees fit, and while he has his own demons related to self-defeat, we respect him for not doing what his brother does - using his social capital to coerce the will of others. The social capital, or lack-there-of, is perhaps best pronounced in the film's exploration of female agency. Both main female characters in this film come from backgrounds that couldn't be more varied. Gwen French, an intellectual and creative writing teacher, presumably has nothing in common with Ginnie, the vulgar "easy" woman, yet they both struggle to be heard, due to each of them going against the larger societies implications of what a woman should and shouldn't be. Ginnie is a character whom is looked down upon due to her hedonistic behavior, much like frank, but Gwen comes from the other side of the spectrum, being a highly intelligent woman whom is respected on the surface, yet it's clear her potential is limited due to her gender. Each of these woman are victims of a society that views them as female first and not an individual, characters whom form a love-triangle with Frank; which further more pushes Minnelli's thematic assertions related to moral relativism forward. The love triangle that unfolds between these characters is presented in a geniune and mature way, one in which is emotionally messy, which finds Dave stuck between the morally acceptable, virtuous life with Gwen vs. the deprave, hedonistic life with Ginnie. It's not really a choice for Dave, as he himself is drawn heavily to Gwen, who herself struggles with the prospects of being with a semi-troubled man who appreciates her looks far more than her intellect. it's revealing that Dave doesn't directly make this choice in the end, as our vessel for this story also falls victim to his judgmental nature; he views Ginnie as a fun but beneath him, having little value to Dave due to her disinterest in intellectual pursuits. Gennie, a character whom is described as a pig in the course of the film's running time ends up being the empathetic, selfless soul in the entire story, a character whose lack of social status due to intellectual shortcomings make her an afterthought through much of the film's running time, yet in the end she is remembered for sacrificing herself for another, committed the ultimate selfless act, one which it's hard to imagine any of the other characters in this story doing. She is a passive character for much of the story, one that pales in comparison to Frank's social status among their class, but she supports him, she loves him regardless of not being able to grasp all his intellectual thoughts. Ginnie is a character whose morals would be degraded by most due to how she conducts herself, yet she comes to represent arguably the most important and humanistic quality of all - love. An incredibly dense piece of storytelling and artistry that works both intellectually and emotionally on multiple plains, Vincent Minnelli's Some Came Running is an astute study of agency, social capital, and morality, a film which pleads for less superficial judgement in society towards the individual.
Grotesque, subversive, and wickedly fun, Tyler MacIntyre's Tragedy Girl's traverses the horror genre, playfully deconstructing a host of its tropes while it slyly provides a vicious commentary on what it deems is our impoverished culture where vanity is reinforced by the givings of the digital age. Centered around Sadie and Mckayla, two teenage crime reporters who capture a serial killer and hold him hostage in an subversive attempt to raise their social media profile to stardom, Tragedy Girls' is a pointed, blunt take down of our vapid, celebrity obsessed culture, one where our strive for validation is paramount to the that of the empathy for others. A horror comedy with bite, Tragedy Girls is far from subtle, wearing its social commentary with brass and playful nihilism, detailing characters who profit off the degradation and decimation of others. One could certainly argue the films assertions can be shallow and far from nuanced or intellectually cutting in approach, yet the way Tragedy Girl's uses the character Lowell- the kidnapped serial killer-implies at least one counterpoint that this says otherwise. This characterization that embodies the traditional horror film killer - a blank slate psychopath, in in contrast to our two main leads. In Tragedy Girls Lowell is a character which is effectively inept, he is an afterthought to the audience, forgotten for most of the story. The space he occupies in the film itself is an assertion, and an effective one, as Tragedy Girls showcases how this type of evil pales in comparison to the narcissistic nature which our contemporary culture can project on impressionable minds. With a playful tone, Tragedy Girls is an emphatic, somewhat shallow, slashing of contemporary culture; a worthy addition to the horror comedy which satifies in both macabre and comedic designs.
Lucio Fulci's Perversion Story is a devilishly enjoyable psychological thriller; a mystery full of stylish excess and narrative intrigue that encapsulates the era of late-1960s San Francisco, one which had been transformed due to the sexual revolution, with Fulci offering up a vivid snapshot of a time in which sexual freedoms were having far-reaching impacts on the general zeitgeist of American culture. Fulci's transfixing artifice is on full display, as Perversion's Story's stylish excesses subvert and seduce the viewer; with every flourish the perfect juxtaposition for its narrative, one which follows a prestigious doctor attempting to discover the mystery behind his wife's death. Fulci offers up a transfixing snapshot of San Francisco in the late 1960s, a document of the time period, in which the Italian filmmaker both observes and projects the culture of the area, as the film interjects many of the cities more iconic landmarks into the narrative, making the city a character itself in his story. A filmmaker whose always shown an interest in carnal desire, in particularly the psychological power which lust and sexuality can have over morality and logic, with Perversion Story Fulci places hedonism front and center, challenging the puritanical influences of American society through the normalization of sexuality. The best example of this is how our main protagonist is a prestigious and well-respected doctor; He is a man who himself is hedonistic, yet good-natured, one which effectively challenges the puritanical order of what defines a good member of society. The plotting of Perversion Story sees this character traverse the underbelly of San Francisco, one in which sexual liberation is front-and-center; as he attempts to prove his innocence to the authorities which suspect fair play. Perversion Story's narrative offers up enough twists and turns to keep the viewer engaged and mysterious from start-to-finish, yet what makes this Fulci effort so intriguing is what it offers up as a document of the time-period, one in which hedonism was becoming socially acceptable due to the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
Set in an unnamed African country, Rungano Nyoni's I Am Not A Witch is a quietly fierce, harrowing story of Shula, an 8-year-old girl, whom after a banal incident is accused of witchcraft and sentenced to state custody. She is taken to a witch camp, where she is indoctrinated into this class of society, one which is extorted and abused by the government officials which manage them. Her government sponsor, an opportunist, sees rich financial gain from young Shula, who is abnormally young to be considered a witch, setting up a one-sided toxic relationship between the two of them, where his greed and her quiet, passiveness lead to tragedy. I Am Not A Witch is an assured debut, a piercing character study that reveals the corrosive nature of authority, and the toxic effects the collective will can have on the individual. I Am Not A Witch asserts that whether this authority is derived by theological or ideological roots makes little difference, as the film showcases an individual in Shula, a young innocent girl, whom is destroyed under the weight of the collective will. The witches on the compound are characters whom have long succumbed to the oppressive will of the autocratic collective - one that views them as dangerous- they accept they are property of the state. Shula is a quiet character, one which barely speaks at all, yet her journey is one that sees her be extorted and possessed, lacking even the most basic liberty or free will over her body and her actions. Shula accepts her place at first but there is a quiet sense of rebellion in this characterization that builds as the film progresses, with her her actions in the conclusion confirming what is quietly suggested - she will not succumb to the desires of anyone, she will have free will over her body and soul. While some may interpret the film's conclusion as a statement about the intrinsic balance between freedom and safety, I Am Not A Witch acknowledges this balance but its final frame, where we see the white ribbons waving freely in the wind, suggests that the filmmakers solely understand that liberty of the individual is most paramount.
While a tad by-the-numbers in its formalism, Jonas Carpignano's A Ciambra is a harrowing coming-of-age story which is assertive in its general disgust for tribalism, hierarchy, and cyclical nature of humanity in a dog-eat-dog world. Its main protagonist, Pio, is a character desperate to grow up fast. He drinks, smokes, and attempts to bed the woman of his small Romani community in Calabra on a near nightly basis, idolizing and romanticizing the lifestyle of his elder brother. Pio is crafty, being one of the few people who can traverse the various factions of the community- the Italians, Africans, and Romanis, but he is desperate for the same responsibilities as his elder brother which involve petty theft and grand theft auto, whatever necessary to survive in this desolate region where the Italians rule the land. When his brother is arrested, Pio attempts to be "the man of the family', which leads to his youthful naivety and innocence being completely shattered under the weight of the dog-eat-dog nature of his world. While Jonas Carpignano's A Ciambra certainly falls into the coming-of-age canon, being a film first and foremost about the loss of innocence, these assertions have been seen a thousand times before. Couple this with the film's overall visual design, one which is visceral and chaotic to-a-fault, being far too claustrophobic and frantic early on to the point of distraction, A Ciambra was a film that had me concerned early on. By its conclusion, A Ciambra won me over, touching on lots of interesting assertions related to tribalism, societal repetition, and the general coercive nature of such collectivist trappings, yet it relies heavily on its strong characterization to keep the viewer engaged early on. Carpignano's characterization of young Pio is well-observed, a balanced one which manages to exhibit Pio's assertive nature while still slyly reminding the viewer of his youthful naivety. He is a character who externally projects toughness and responsibility, occupying spaces usually only occupied by adults, yet we are reminded of youthful nature throughout this narrative as well, whether it be due to his childish fear of trains or his shyness when it comes to various social interactions, in particularly when he watches the soccer match with the African migrants. A Ciambra's establishes this community as one with an oppressive and well-established hierarchy, where the local Italians effectively rule over both the fellow Romani, and the African refugees. Through Pio's personal journey, we see the cyclical effect such hierarchy has on common decency, with Pio eventually betraying his friend, an African migrant, who has shown more empathy and compassion for him than his own family, falling victim to the tribalism of his community. Pio, in his youthful naivety, doesn't have the same tribalism or collectivist identity as the adults in these various factions, and as narrative progresses, you can slowly see this being extracted from him. His ascent into adulthood runs parallel to his collectivist, tribalistic identity, one that leads towards a somber conclusion in which we see Pio effectively loose not only his innocence, but a part of his personal identity.
By the finale of this film, Pio is a character whom has seen his innocence shattered, and while he questions the way things are, he inevitably falls inline and excepts his reality, he has now become a man among his Romani tribe but at what cost to his empathetic soul?
A piercing character study about identity, empowerment, and mutual respect, Sebastián Lelio's A Fantastic Woman is the story of Marina, a transgender woman, who finds her whole life thrown into a state of uncertainty after the untimely death of her lover, Orlando. In the wake of her companion's death, Marina quickly finds nearly every aspect of her life and relationship with Orlando under siege, with Orlando's ex-wife and son, among others, viewing this woman with disdain, and at times, even aggression, as they needle and probe Marina's whole existence, questioning her relationship with Orlando, her unconventional lifestyle, and even her right to mourn his death. Through Marina's struggle to pay respects to the man she grew to love, A Fantastic Woman showcases the attempts by Orlando's family to casually erase her from the equation, using her "unconventional" lifestyle as way to banish her. With Orlando deceased, his son and ex-wife no longer have to try to understand or comply with his choice of partner, which leads to their mentality rooted deeply in complete exile. Under the guise of civil conversation, and the need to keep things "within the family", Orlando's son and ex-wife aim to extinguish any connection between Marina and Orlando, unable to recognize that it's through their own fears and hate that they curse the name of their deceased father/ex-husband. Her being a transgender, grants them both the grotesque agency, to disavow entirely. Through Marina's struggle to deal with Orlando's death and her fight to be able to say goodbye through the same traditional channels as everyone else, A Fantastic Women provides astute observations on identity, demonstrating that one's own personal identity is not merely constructed from within but rather crafted, at least in part, by the shared experiences one has with others they value. Social interaction, whether romantic in nature or platonic, helps craft and shape individuals own psyches in various ways, and for Marina, Orlando was her strength, he empowered her due to viewing her in the way she wanted to be viewed, with his tragic and untimely passing leaving her in an emotional crises, alone again in a world which feels threatening to her. In a sense, it isn't too dramatic to say that Orlando was Marina's lifeline, a character, who due in part to his status as a successful business man, forced the world around him to value and respect her as an individual. At its core, A Fantastic Woman is a story of empowerment, following Marina as she slowly and surely finds her own agency after the death of the man who gave her so much support. Through her tumultuous fighting with Orlando's family, A Fantastic Woman reveals a woman who is finding her independence through her fight, a woman who is slowly forming her own identity through a combination of this individual struggle and her fond remembrance of Orlando, which constantly reinforces her choices and gives her strength. Sebastián Lelio's direction is stylish but never excessive, with the insertion of surrealist flourishes being paramount in visually expressing our main character's internal struggles, accentuating the underlying pain, fear, and longing associated with traumatic personal loss without cheapening the harrowing, grounded realism of Marina's struggle. Featuring a powerful lead performance from Daniela Vega, A Fantastic Woman is a powerful character study about one woman's struggle for respect and in turn personal empowerment in a society that hasn't quite caught up.
An emotional plea for pacifism that effectively skewers the intrinsic absurdities of war and conflict, Georg Wilhelm Pabst's Comradeship is one-for-the-ages, a film which skillfully uses a tragic mining calamity as a vehicle to pronounce the filmmaker's disdain for nationalism and distaste for war and militarized conflict. Centered around an old Germany mine, which at the end of WWI was split into two to accommodate the new border location between France and Germany, Pabst's Comradeship chronicles the chaos that ensues when a fire breaks out on the French side, leaving a group of French miners in peril. Stranded deep below and running out of time, the french miners quickly find themselves aided by their equals on the German side, who form a rescue group to help their fellow miners. An assertive piece of filmmaking that doesn't shy away from its overarching message, Comradeship has a layered anti-statism, anti-authoritarianism message, a film which recognizes that true power and good stems largely from the people themselves. Nearly all the various authority figures throughout this film are obstacles that stand in the way of saving lives, from the border patrol agents, to the French authorities whom are effectively worthless at the scene of the mining fire, Pabst's Comradeship showcases various authority figures as obstructions, state-instruments, whom effectively cannot help due to their nationalistic or authoritarian allegiances to the nation-state. Individuals who wield the power and authority which comes from their respective nation-states only obstruct and frustrate the mining community, yet in the end it's the community and the miners which inhabit it that save themselves and come together in the ashes of this catastrophe. From the German miners whom rush to help their french counterparts eschewing the border to save time, to the french housewives themselves, whom grow frustrated by the ineptitude of the state response, the various members of the community work together to solve this problem. Whether it's intentional or not, Pabst's pacifist, humanistic message rings of the merits of Anarchism - one in which the coercive effects of hierarchy, power, and authority vanquish. The craft and artistry implored by Pabst throughout Comradeship is masterful, as the film visually draws many parallels between the mining accident and war itself. The chaos and aftermath of the mining collapse, the general haze and confusion which takes place harkens to any wartime battlefield, with Pabst even bluntly imploring a visual juxtaposition at one point between war-time and the mining collapse, exhibiting through visuals the fractured psyche of one trapped miner and ex-WWI veteran, a man whose confusion has reached an apex under the weight of such paralleled trauma between his time on the battlefield and the current mining catastrophe. Georg Wilhelm Pabst's Comradeship uses this mining accident to reveal the trivial nature of borders themselves, a film that skewers the false sense of group identity and virtue people achieve through belonging to a collective, in this case nation-state, while recognizing these any such classifications only subverts our larger empathetic nature as humans.
A plea for more humanism in a world driven heavily by greed, self-interest and detachment, Jian Liu's Have A Nice Day weaponizes its low-key crime narrative to touch on larger assertions about the state of humanism in our contemporary, every-changing world. Set in Southern China, Have A Nice Day effectively establishes a bag containing a million yuan as its main protagonist, one which finds itself constantly exchanging hands among a diverse group of people from different backgrounds, each driven by personal motivations and the promise which this material object can provide. Have a Nice Day is blunt and assertive, using its animation to showcase China in a darker, seedier fashion, one in which poverty lurks around every corner, hiding in plain site behind the massive infrastructure changes happening in the region. While it would be easy to call many of these characters selfish that would be far too simplistic. They are all out for themselves of course, but what Have A Nice Day manages to create with its characterizations are individuals who driven by the desire to make their lives better, many losing their better judgment to the allure which this case of money offers them- a way out. These characters feel shaped and molded by their environment, one which hasn't proven very forgiving, leaving them hardened and detached from others. This money is a destructive force which effectively leads to misery and death for everyone who comes across it, their internal self-interest, detachment, and greed leading them to misery and even death. For Have A Nice Day, this million yuan and the chaos it causes throughout this blood-soaked narrative is symbolic representation of the state of humanism in the world, one which recognizes the ever-growing detachment happening in the information age.
Transversing the tropes and cliches of the underdog sports story, Michael Ritchie's Downhill Racer provides the anti-thesis to films such as Rocky; a terse and transfixing psychological study of a man driven to reach the top of the mountain of his career. Centered around the self-assured David Chappellet, a young hotshot skier who gains a spot on the American Olympic team after another skier gets badly injured on the slopes, Downhill Racer is a complex, many-faceted character study, one that is constantly probing its young subject, intent on unearthing the inner psyche of a character who simply put, wants to be the best. Bold in its relative plotless formalism, at least when compared to most mainstream American features, Downhill Racer is film in which much is told throughout the use of didactic dialogue or forced plotting, with Ritchie's observant eye and Redford's multi-dimensional performance slowly revealing the inner-workings of this character. To call Downhill Racer a condemnation of the underdog sports story is perhaps a bit harsh, yet Downhill Racer does reject the simplicity of such films, unwilling to merely accept the competitive drive of its main protagonist as nothing more than that, slowly revealing a man in Chappellet whom is scared of failure and whose outward confidence and general self-interest are directly linked to his underlying fear of defeat and the lack of accreditation which would come with it. Chappellet's whole identity both internally and externally are defined by his ability to win on the downhill, and perhaps what makes Michael Ritchie's film so memorable is its ability to slowly reveal the tragic nature of this character, a man whom deep down doesn't know what he wants whom is chasing a ghost - the accreditation, fame, and fortune he feels he deserves. Downhill Racer's visual aesthetic is crafted much in the same mold as its characterizations, being intricately detailed yet unconventional by traditional mainstream American filmmaking standards, imploring a cinema-verite aesthetic that feels authentic in both its action-packed skiing moments and its quieter, character moments, evoking the underlying tension that lurks not only at every turn of the race but also that which lurks within our young protagonist, a man whom is desperate to be appreciated and remembered. In its finale Downhill Racer remains ambiguous and unsatisfying by traditional standards for its unwillingness to openly state its assertions. The viewer isn't told anything outright, yet the glance shared between David Chappellett and the racer who follows him, a younger German boy who nearly eclipsed him, says plenty. In this quiet moment, Chappellet has learned something about the finite and overall cruel nature of sports itself, understanding now how quickly things can change and recognizing that personal drive and achievement alone won't bring internal satisfaction. He is a character whom chases the ghost of greatness, yet in this moment he recognizes the objective nature of sports and competition, his near defeat in itself offering a glimmer of hope for this self-centered character, one that will lead him to recognize that an individual's value or worth isn't merely valued by external success. Juxtaposing the film's denouement with its opening, in which a skier's injury takes him out of Olympic competition, Downhill Racer reveals itself as one of the best sports film's ever made. Downhill Racer acknowledges the therapeutic or virtuous nature that competition and personal accomplishment can have on the individual while simultaneously warning against the short-sighted nature of placing too much value on one's competition-based successes, especially in sports in which success is finite and fleeting. Winning medals and being heralded as one of the best skiers in the world could bring David Chappellett what he wants short term, but will it be enough in the end? The denoucement of Downhill Racer, and the many-faceted characterization which preceded it, suggest otherwise.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.