Justine Triet's Sibyl is a delightful psychodrama that manages to be playful yet precise, effectively employing formal arrangements that deceive but never deviate, or lose coherency, as it crafts its alluring portrait of interiority. Sharp, intricately layered, and well-balanced thematically, Sibyl explores the tangential relationship between fiction and reality, the creative process, and the pervasive effects this deeply personal process can place on identity and self-worth. It's a film that never feels convoluted, despite its complexities, thanks in large part to thematic resolve. Intentionally aiming to distort and subvert the audience's perspective in sly and interesting ways, everything about Sibyl feels calculated and precisely rendered both narratively and visually, with Triet striking the right equilibrium between dramatics and style. Sibyl taps into the intrinsic egoism of creativity, juxtaposing various human agents in the act of creation with a gaze rooted in honesty, not romanticism. The title character Sybil (Virginie Efira) and the director of this film within a film, played magnificently by Sandra Hüller, are both creatives who manipulate and borrow from life experiences that perhaps don't adhere to ethical arrangements associated with being a good person. This juxtaposition provides a steadfast reminder that any form of fiction itself is rooted in reality, and the intoxicating drive to create can blind us from the coercive effects creativity can have on the malleability of abject truth, both externally in the exhibition, but also internally through the effect on consciousness. A film that intrigues for most of its running time, Sibyl becomes more pointed in its affecting denouement. It's a story about a woman's loss of self, and how her actions throughout the narrative become a blinding agent in which she inflicts unnecessary trauma on those she cares most about. A film that is a foray into consciousness ultimately becomes one in which real-world consequences are extremely felt
A visually striking portrait of contemporary Ukraine, Valentyn Vasyanovych's Atlantis is a grim albeit piercing exploration of the long-lasting reverberations of war and how they infect the present long after the last bout of violence has dissipated. Beautifully constructed visually and conceptually, Atlantis offers a startling portrait of modernity that effectively challenges vague notions of progress often written by those in a position to reap such rewards brought by globalization and transnational exchange. The film's cold, gray aesthetics manifest an aura of melancholy and stagnation. The tedium and degradation of daily life are palpable throughout this film, and yet at Atlantis' core is a film of optimism. Instilled with a positive purview of human nature, Atlantis recognizes that social-political realities can obfuscate our psyche's penchant for hope. The reciprocal power of individual interaction and general empathy for one and other is not something that is learned or taught by political or economic systems, it is embedded into the social fabric of life. Hope is born out of the ashes of conflict, and born out of Atlantis' dreary aesthetics are lucid moments of ingenuity, connection, and empathy which operate in opposition to the suffocating, static spatiality of a land besieged by strife and conflict. The milieu of instability and confinement is intricately expressed through rigorous visual construction yet Atlantis undercuts its grim atmosphere with slyly optimistic purview, one in which human nature is defined by connection, empathy, and love. A tremendous work of visual grandeur that quietly elucidates our intrinsic desire for connection, even among environments that may seem beyond reproach
Fernanda Valadez's Identifying Features re-contextualizes the border-crossing humanist drama with a vitality rooted more in immersive horror than introspective social realism. Attempting to construct and personify dread-induction through synthesizing the spiritual with the material world, Identifying Features is a film that manages to encapsulate the tenets of trauma through an expressivity typically seen only in genre filmmaking. Juxtaposing the vast, barren spatiality of the Mexican terrain south of the US border with tight, constraining compositions from man-made structures, Identifying Feature's formal stylings are impressively realized. Such attention to detail beautifully enunciates the film's underlying theme - how abstractions such as national borders lead to material denigration which isn't often so easily seen from an outside perspective. The narrative and characterizations engage heavily with mystery and thriller sensibilities - focused on a mother's unwavering attempt to track down her son who fled to the border and subsequently disappeared. Identifying Features could have easily fallen into heavy-handed thematic navel-gazing and yet it wisely remembers that expounding commentary is never as strong as sculpting it around the powerful visualizations that cinema allows. The dramatic elements are more not less poignant because of this approach, and in this story of grief in which the metaphysical and material coalesce, the border-crossing drama is given real teeth. It's an immersive examination of abstract social/political conceptions and the far-reaching externalities that denigrate so many and through its carefully crafted formal designs and narrative schematics, Identifying Features encapsulates the unnecessary dissolution of morality brought by state & legal abstraction
Shinji Sômai's Moving is a revelatory coming of age story that traverses the familiar narrative archetype of divorce, and the effect it can have on a young impressionable mind, with such an attuned understanding of the psyche of a child. Formally creative and dramatically compelling, Moving is a film uninterested in placing blame or creating any false action-reaction binary as it navigates the destabilizing terrain of a fractured family. Instead, it astutely transfixes on the effect such change has on a young mind which can't possibly grapple with the complexities of the world and the disparate forces of individual action that make up our collective experience. Conceptually speaking, this is the story of a child who is forced to navigate the fractured spaces of her world to find solace and eventually, inner peace. A lesser filmmaker could easily fall victim to melodrama or saccharine modes of manipulation yet Shinji Sômai masterfully avoids such juvenile conceptions. There is an unwillingness to place blame on one parent or the other, and Sômai routinely repositions the audience's perceptions as the narrative progresses, showing a keen intent to make sure they can't fixate or place blame on any of these characters. The film is extremely well-layered and incredibly mature, and in Moving's finale, Shinji Sômai delivers one of the most impressive cinematic sequences ever committed to celluloid. Blue-hued moonlight enunciates the profound sadness lying beneath this child's facade of invulnerability, with her journey into the night alone taking on a metaphysical quality in which impressionist imagery signals transcendence. The barriers between the metaphysical and material world begin to blur, and young Ren's journey into the natural world, untouched by man-made material obstructions, signals a transformative moment for this young woman whose been in search of peace for a long time. A sense of catharsis and acceptance is reached in the film's most stunning visual sequence, one in which Sômai deploys surrealist strategies to beautifully capture the moment of emotional reconciliation, one that comes from within young Ren as she finally realizes her parents fractured relationship is not within her control nor a consequence of her actions. One of those films that makes me feel inadequate as a writer given my inability to articulate just how special this film is. It's an exceptional film - astute, incisive, and emotionally poignant from beginning to end, being unquestionably amongst the greatest coming-of-age stories of all time
Lili Horvát's Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time is a transfixing study of the complexities and labyrinths of the human psyche. It's a film in which the interiority of oneself is beautifully displayed through an enigmatic formal structure and pensive style that is strikingly effective at creating an empathetic portrait of an individual in pursuit of attaining something which she desperately wants - Love and companionship. Horvát's beautifully constructed atmospherics and formal sensibilities reminded me of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's To The Ends of the Earth. T. These films are wildly different in treatment, yet they both beautifully capture the understated fears and tensions of their principal characters in a way that takes on a metaphysical quality - each beginning to become victims of their perceptions. Preparations to Be Together For An Unknown Period of Time's is a film rooted in romanticism yet it is not timid about capturing the abject power of a concept such as love. Exhibiting how this powerful emotional response often obfuscates the more rigorous aspects of intellect, Preparations manages to capture how we are often subservient to our emotions while never questioning their overall importance. The film's more obtuse sensibilities create an immersive experience in which exposition is unwarranted and unnecessary - a conscious decision that symbolizes the often unquantifiable and incalculable complexities of consciousness itself. Through its sensitive formal stylings, Preparations remains deeply affecting, excavating its truths about longing, connection, and love through a style that feels completely organic and honest. At its core, Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time is a story of loneliness, the unspoken negotiations of daily life, and the grandiose power which affect can have over our general consciousness. It's a film that doesn't easily conform to the strictures of narrative or genre, as it pines for something more, delivering an immersive work that is enigmatic but genuinely honest, romantic, and tender about the human condition as every individual navigates and negotiates with the external world
Like most of Hong Sangsoo's work, Claire's Camera feels effortless in its dramatic sensibilities, feeling slight from its onset before slowly revealing the understated complexities of its story related to communication, coincidence, and companionship. Through a free-flowing narrative that feels free from the strictures of linear narrative storytelling, Claire's Camera carries an ethereal sensibility to the way it portrays its interactions, blending tenderness with dramatics in a way that feels wholly organic and incisive about the ways in which we as individuals communicate with each other. As one would expect from Hong Sangsoo, nothing about this film feels manufactured or weighed down by the need for exposition, and one of my favorite aspects of this film is just how it rapturously captures the ephemeral beauty of connection while traveling in a foreign spatiality, where the pretense of knowing bears no weight on the potential for connection. There is drama lying underneath the surface of this story, yet Hong remains one of the very best at recognizing how to encapture this organically through character and interaction instead of overstated dramatics, as the film slowly excavated underlying tensions, anxieties, and uncertainty of its characters in a way that manages to be soothing yet incisive. Another understated gem from Hong Sangsoo, Claire's Camera features perhaps one of my favorite quirky comedic bits yet from the South Korean filmmaker - Kim Min-hee's character asking for a selfie from her boss after getting laid off as a way of commensurating their relationship. It's a fun moment but there is also something profound about it on an intellectual and emotional level. Kim Min-hee seemingly has no control over this negative outcome yet her response is rooted in positivity, choosing to embrace what they shared instead of fixating on the action itself, a difficult conception but one which I think ultimately leads to a better, and ultimately more fulfilling way of living.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.