Robert Machoian & Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck's God Bless The Child is a startling and truly singular experience, a film that manages to capture the world from the perspective of young children in a visceral, chaotic way. Using impressionistic cinematography and a grounded, slice-of-life story, God Bless the Child elicits the sense of wonder felt by young children, exhibiting the curiosity, ignorance, and exuberance of youth, living in a large world in which they simply cannot truly comprehend. The opening scene of God Bless The Child is a perfect example of the impressionistic cinematography and lighting used by the filmmakers, a scene in which the mother of these young children drives away at dusk. Shot from the perspective of one of her young children who is perched in the doorway, the sequence reveals only the silhouette of the child, evoking a universal sense of abandonment, with the child being a faceless figure who is now forced to fend for themselves. Of course the child is unaware of exactly what is going on, the potential parental abandonment, but the sequence is dimly lit and haunting, a sequence that evokes a sense of worry in the viewer, who is far more privy to what is going on than our young child protagonist. The disconnect between the viewer and the young children is one of the stronger and more interesting aspects of the film, with every character outside of Harper, the oldest of the five children, living in a world of ignorance, having no true understanding that their parental figure may have abandoned them entirely. Due to this, God Bless The Child manages to transport the viewer into these children's perspective, asking the viewer to essentially forget the true potential terror of this situation and embrace the lens of adolescence. We observe the actions of these young characters, as the film captures how youth is shaped by what they experience, with God Bless The Child providing a geniune-feeling look at youthful curiosity and exuberance that has a quietly broooing sense of horror underneath the surface.. With God Bless The Child having the temperament of an observational documentary, the film does feel a bit tedious at times, but through the observational study of these young characters, the film manages to make a ordinary day feel extraordinary, viewing life through the eyes of these young children where fantasy and chaos are merely a part of their everyday life.
Terrence Malick's Knight of Cups is probably the filmmaker's most experimental film to-date, another evolution of the his impressionistic style that offers a meditative kaleidoscope of the life of Rick, a Hollywood writer living in Los Angeles. Young, rich, and handsome, Knight of Cups is an odyssey through the eyes of our main character, as he ventures through the desire-laden landscapes of Los Angeles, where mansions, beaches, night clubs, and insider parties offer him a vapid sense of happiness and worth. Through all this lavish excess Rick is in a state of despair, grappling with his past mistakes that include a complicated relationship with his father and brother, as well as a host of alluring woman, each of which were unable to bring him the happiness he so desperately seeks. Knight of Cups does very little of anything in a conventional way, showing very little interest in its thinly-veiled narrative, focusing much more on the sensory experience it wishes to create. Through this odyssey of beautiful imagery and meditative narration, which at times does take on a form of Malickian self parody in stretches, Knight of Cups offers a singular vision of one man's existential crisis, with cinematography that evokes a visceral reaction throughout. Nothing about this man's life is spelled out by Malick, merely hinted at, never explained, as Knight of Cups is much more about mood than story, letting its characterizations unfold through this fever dream type meditation, as Rick laments about his past mistakes. Meaning is a tad enigmatic, but for me Knight of Cups is about the elusiveness of happiness, with Rick being a character who has attempted, and failed, to find it through companionship. Malick's film seems to suggest that the key to happiness is through loving oneself, with Rick's own self-pity and regret denying his personal salvation. The film's meditative, poetic style will surely frustrate some viewers, as will the fact that the film is essentially another tale of "rich white male problems", but even with all that being said, it's tough to deny that Knight of Cups is another singular vision from the filmmaker, whom I would argue continues to evolve and push the medium forward in interesting ways, even with a film like Knight of Cups, which at times wallows too much in self-pity.
Featuring the filmmaker's penchant for slapstick humor, whimsical dialogue, and subtlety-biting satire, Preston Sturges' The Miracle of Morgan's Creek is a fast-paced, enjoyable comedy that sets its sights on satirizing American Armed forces overseas, patriotism, society's definition of masculinity, and the feminine servitude expected during in the time period. The Miracle of Morgan's Creek is story of Trudy Kockenlocker, a man-crazy single girl who essentially believes it's her mission and duty to entertain every GI who happens to pass through town. One morning after a particularly wild night, Trudy learns that she may have married a soldier named Ratzkywatzky in her drunken stupor. Evidently something certainly happened that night between Ratzkywatzky and Trudy, as she soon learns she's pregnant as well, though Trudy hides the information from her bombastic policeman father. Enter Norval Jones, Trudy's hapless man companion, whose a bit of putz, pining for Trudy's affection at every turn. This is quite the predicament for Trudy to be in, given the fact that she has no idea who the father truly is, and along with Norval, seh concocts a plan that entails Norval takes on the assumed name of Ratzkywatzky and posesas a GI, claiming to be the father of this unborn child. Unfortunately, their deception leads to more chaos, with Norval even getting arrested for deceiving the U.S. Military, with a mini-miracle in the form of sextuplets being what saves both Norval and Trudy from prosecution in the end. The Miracle of Morgan's Creek is very fun, fast-paced wild experience that finds Sturges quietly and maliciously deconstruct the time period's flawed definition of masculinity. Norval is a character who has essentially been deemed worthless by society, a character isn't capable of military service. His inability to serve has essentially branded him as a putz, and while Judy enjoys his company it's clear, early on at least, that she is much more interested in the G.I. men who are serving their country overseas. Through this wild narrative, Sturges reveals how Norval is in fact a man who should be praised for his commitment to Judy, a character who essentially sacrifices his livelihood for the sake of the woman he loves. Norval is a character who is deemed as irrelevant by society, but as The Miracle of Morgan's Creek unfolds, Sturges makes sure to subtlely attack those members of society deemed respectable, such as politicians, policeman, soldiers, and magistrates, contrasting their deemed respectability with that of Norval's plight, a man who is taking responsibility for something he doesn't even have to. Much of Miracle of Morgan's Creek is about the duty and responsibility those of us have for our country. Through the character of Norval, a man who doesn't actually serve his country, Sturges reveals the true sense of responsibility, juxtaposing a soldier's service to his country with Norval's service to his kin and perceived family, as The Miracle of Morgan's Creek delivers a delightful, chaotic comedy that reveals some of the shortcomings of societies pre-conceived notions about masculinity, duty, and responsibility.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cemetery of Splendor is a quietly intoxicating examination of humanities' relationship with nature, life, and death, being another enigmatic film from the celebrated Thai director that challenges the viewer to see the world in a truly singular way. Much of the film takes place at a temporary clinic, where soldiers suffer from a mysterious sleeping sickness, which leaves them despondent and bed-ridden. At this clinic is where we meet lonesome housewife and volunteer Jenjira, who tends to the soldiers. The doctors explore many ways to treat this sleeping sickness, including colored light therapy which attempts to aid each of the patient's troubled dreams, but perhaps it' s young Keng who provides the most essential treatment, a young medium, who uses her psychic powers to help these young, comatose soldiers communicate with their loved ones. In this setting, Jenjira comes face to face with her own existentialism, with the memory-filled spaces of comatose soldiers offering a revelatory world for her, where she reflects on her life. An enigmatic exploration of existential issues that is hypnotic, transfixing, and touching, Cemetery of Splendor is a film that quietly forces the viewer to accept the fantastical aspects of everyday life, with Weerasethakul evoking a sense of true appreciation for how large the world is around us, expressing how truly amazing the gift of life in this world truly is, and how much we as human beings can take it for granted. Shot almost exclusively with steady compositions, Cemetery of Splendor has a quiet sense of underlying sadness enveloping the whole film, as the serene, natural setting provides a beautiful juxtaposition with those soldier's suffering from the mysterious sleeping sickness. I've always appreciated the grounded supernatural and mystical elements of Weerasethakul's films, with Cemetery of Splendor being no exception, using a naturalistic approach and well selected photography to evoke this mysticism surrounding its characters, with the sounds of nature and lush setting capturing man's relationship with nature, a type of atmosphere that leads to characters being confronted in one way or another by existential questions. Through the character of Jenjira, Cemetary of Splendor touches on regret and the uncertainties of life, but also the opulence of modern day life, how humanity has grown apart from nature, busied by materialism. One of my favorite sequences of the entire film involves a beautiful transition between a busy set of escalators in a mall and the hospital beds of the sleeping soldiers, a beautiful juxtaposition by Weerasethakui that contrasts the hustle and bustle of modern society with the stillness of these dying soldiers, a sequence that is powerful in its simplicity. There is also a sequence on the lake front, where characters routinely switch seats among the benches like a game of musical chairs, a simple, almost odd scene that i'd argue is Weerasethakui's way of commenting on the uncertainty and indecisiveness of life, with these characters exhibiting uncertainty about exactly where they want to sit and what they want to do, or be. The films of Weerasethakui are certainly not for everyone, being enigmatic filmmaking that challenges the viewer from start to finish. That being said, for those willing to take a chance, Cemetery of Splendor is a quietly transfixing experience, that raises existential questions about humanity's relationship with life and death.
A tale of survival, Cy Endfield's Sands of the Kalahari is a story that examines the primitive nature of man, showcasing how humanity itself is a victim of civilization, programmed by technology and privilege to resist our more primitive, animalistic state. The film chronicles the exploits of a crew of plane crash survivors whom now find themselves in the middle of the sweltering heat of the southern Africa, hundreds of miles from civilization. With no technology and limited resources, this group is tasked with trying to survive, setting up camp at a nearby rock formation, happening to share the space with a nearby pack of savage baboons. With food and water at a minimum, the group soon finds themselves battling their own survivalist nature, as one man in particular, O'Brien, decides that his best chance of survival entails embracing the survival of the fittest mentality which makes various members of the stranded group expendable in his eyes. Sands of Kalhari is a tense, well-paced survival movie that certainly works on a surface level, but where the film really excels is its underlying exploration of man's inherent animal-ism, juxtaposing a nearby pack of wild baboons behavior with that of the stranded group. The film captures how the extreme pressure of survival can impact any social group, with Sands of Kalhari using the character of O'brien as a device to exhibit the primal desire to survive no matter what moral shortcomings. In a way, O'brien is a character who sees his intellectualism stripped away by the threat of death, forced into a primal, barbarianism where everyone is expendable if it helps his chances. One of the other fascinating aspects of the film is the part the female character in the plays, a character who is essentially viewed as an object in the film by the other five stranded men. At first glance it's a film of its time period, having a very second-class citizen, object of seduction perspective on woman, but she serves an important purpose in Cy Enfield's larger commentary on the primal aspects of humanity. This female character falls head over heels for O'brien, sexually attracted to the most primal man of the group. This attraction blinds her to his actions yes, but one could argue these are merely her personal survival instincts, clinging to the strongest man of the group, the one that is her best chance of survival in this group, one that provide for her the longest in this desolate environment. When one takes a step back from the gripping story of one man slowly eliminating members of the group in order to survive, Sands of the Kalahari becomes almost allegorical, being a film that uses this story of survival as a reminder of humanities' primitive nature, touching on humanities relationship with nature and ourselves.
Roar Uthaug's The Wave is the Norwegian answer to the American disaster blockbuster, a film that follows the disaster movie formula for the most part, but succeeds more so than most due to creating characters which the audience actually feels invested. The Wave takes place in Geiranger, part of Norway's Sunnmøre region, which is one of the biggest tourist draws in the world due its beautiful mountain landscapes which overlook a small village at the end of the fjord. For all its breathtaking beauty, tragedy could strike at any moment, as a collapse of the mountain into the fjord could create a tsumani, which would eradicate the entire village. After spending several years working at Geiranger's warning center, geologist Krisitan is moving on to a more prestigious job at an oil company, moving to the city with his wife and two children. On the very day he plans to leave with his family, the mountain begins to crumble, threatening the lives of every person in Geiranger who has only ten minutes to get to high ground to escape the impending tsunami. Roar Uthaug's The Wave is a simple, straight-forward disaster film which does what many have failed to do in recent years, show a true appreciation for human life. While many disaster films these days rely on excessive scenes of destruction to get arise out of their audience, The Wave shows empathy for its characters, and I'm not just talking about its main protagonists' plight. Disaster sequences these days often rub me the wrong way, with the filmmakers feeling like psychopathic deities amused by the death and destruction, but The Wave is different in that every death and loss of life is felt on an emotional level. There is a genuine level of sadness The Wave creates around the loss of life that few films of the genre are capable of, with the film making it a priority to capture the aftermath of such a disaster, forcing the viewer to gaze and reflect on the death, destruction, and loss of human life. By today's standards, The Wave is a minuscule disaster film from a carnage perspective, and perhaps the film's most important attribute is its ability to serve as a reminder that size isn't everything (see what I did there?), packing more tension and terror into its disaster sequence than most disaster films in recent years. While The Wave does struggle a bit towards the end, relying on wholly unnecessary "oh no, now the main protagonist is going to die saving his family" narrative beat, this is a well-crafted disaster film that should serve as a good reminder to Hollywood that the size of the disaster isn't always what is important, while also showing that making a disaster movie with emotional resonance is not an oxymoron.
Arnaud Desplechin's My Golden Days is the french filmmaker's attempt at a coming of age tale, telling the story of Paul Dedalus, an anthropologist who is preparing to leave Tajikistan, where he spent many years, and return to his native country of France. Returning home, Paul reminisces about his adolescent years, with much of My Golden Days being told via a series of flashbacks, touching on his early childhood, his mother's attacks of madness, the love of his life, his father's depression, and the perceived betrayal of one of his best friends. The "coming of age" story has got to be one of the most overused concepts in all of filmmaking, and while Arnaud Desplechin's My Golden Days doesn't bring much new to the table in its examination of youthful defiance, and exuberance, it's a film that captures the loneliness associated with growing up in a very real way. Paul is a character who very much lives in the moment, a defiant young man who has never been the same since the suicide of his mother. Paul's father is a loving man, but has never been the same since the death of his wife, stuck in a cycle of despair. Through his tragic youth, Paul has become a character who shows little fear or restraint in life, a social loner of sorts who flees France as soon as possible, unable and unwilling to continue to deal with the dark cloud which hangs over his father and family. The main driving force of this story is Paul's relationship with Esther, the "love of his life" which he spends many years in a long term relationship with. It's this relationship in which Desplechin captures the strain which loneliness creates, as Esther, a strong-willed young woman earlier in the film, begins to grow far too dependent, with a lack of companionship outside of Paul creating an unhealthy relationship. Solitude & Loneliness are really concepts that hang over the entire film, from the depressed father, to Paul's own self-made solitude, with Desplechin seemingly expressing how it's a big part of growing up, the self-discovery of how small one truly is the grand scheme of things. Through this reflection of youth, My Golden Days examines the relationship between individualism, loneliness, and companionship, with the story of Paul delivering a narrative that feels unpredictable and organic, as we following this young man as he tries to find his place in the world and understand exactly what he wants, even if he simply doesn't know it yet. While I'd argue that the film becomes too manic at times, with Arnaud Desplechin caught going on small tangents, My Golden Days is a film that captures the emotions of growing up in a very real way, exhibiting a headstrong character in Paul who stumbles and falls, shaped by a tragic past that pushes him towards his own self-made future.
Based on true events, Pablo Trapero's The Clan tells the story of the notorious Puccio Clan, a family who kidnapped and killed people in 1980s Argentina. The father of the household, Arquimedes Puccio, was a high-ranking official in the Videla regime in Argentina, and after the dictator's fall in 1981, Arquimedes continued to practice his unique skillset, carrying out kidnappings, not for political purposes this time, but merely for personal monetary gains. Ruling over his family like a totalitarian regime, Arquimedes, with the help of his oldest son, would routinely kidnap wealthy Argentinians, holding them ransom in his home until their loved ones paid up. A stunning true story, The Clan is the type of film where you will have to constantly remind yourself this insane tale actually happened, with Pablo Trapero embracing the unbelievable events which took place. Pablo Trapero's The Clan is an impressive effort particularly from a tonal standpoint, being a film that embraces the horror and absurdity of such an unbelievable true story of death and carnage. Given the subject matter, The Clan is full of some pretty dark sequences and drama, yet Trapero never loses track of the absurdity of this tale, delivering a film that balances its darker dramatic elements with a playful tone as if the filmmaker continuously winks at the viewer reminding them that, YES, this did actually happen. One popular method he uses throughout the film to achieve this is the injection of light, pop-esque music throughout the narrative, typically used in scenes of violence and deception. It got to the point in The Clan where whenever this style of light, upbeat music came on the expectation in the viewer is more violence in death, as Trapero juxtaposes the horrors committed by these characters with feel-good, upbeat music- a decision which evokes the sense of normality associated with such violence by the Puccio Clan. At its core, Trapero's film is interested in examining a family unit which was capable of committing such crimes, with the filmmaker routinely juxtaposing the domesticated family life with the radicalism associated with kidnapping another human being. The main relationship involves Father (Arquimdes) and Son (Alejandro), examining the dynamics of paternity and how it relates to a situation where one's father is committing henious crimes. Alejandro is essentially the moral compass of the film, one of the only members of the family who actively helps his father carry out the kidnappings. He is a young man who does heinous things, domineered by his fathers calm, authoriatative presence, Alejandro constantly struggles with the morality of his situation but struggles to stand up to this father. The Clan's strongest dramatic moments are centered around Alejandro's inner turmoil, a character who wears the burden of being a part of kidnappings and even murder, unable to firmly position himself outside of his father's dark, overbearing shadow. Pablo Trapero's The Clan is an insane true story that is told by a filmmaker who isn't scared to embrace the absurdity of its horror story, being a film that impressively balances its dramatic elements and is a devilishly enjoyable experience in the process.
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