Petr Kazda & Tomás Weinreb's I, Olga Hepnarova is a brave, assertive piece of filmmaking, a meticulously composed, study of loneliness, isolation, and despair, providing a throughly fascinating look at Olga Hepnarova, a young woman who turned into a mass murderer on July 10, 1973, when she drove a rented truck into a group of pedestrians, murdering eight people in cold blood. Attempting to tap into the psyche of such an individual, I, Olga Hepnarova provides a detailed look at a character in utter seclusion, an individual who struggles to fit into the typical social contructs of the society she lives in, unable to break free from her family or society's expectations of her. As the film progresses, the downward spiral of despair and psychosis is tangible, with the film beautifully encapsulating the darkness of such emotions, the feelings centered around defeat where nothing is fixable and falling further down this hole of isolation seems like the only solution to her woes. Olga is a character of solitude, whose grown scornful of social standards and this fake sense of community or connection many individuals have, viewing it as nothing more as the suppression of the individual, with many simply trying to fit into the contruct society dealt them. She is a young woman who simply has no one she can confide in, a victim of a deeply-flawed system when it comes to the mentally unstable, and the way the film details this character's degenerating sense of hope or purpose is truly unsettling, with Olga's disdain for everyone and everything around her intensifying daily, becoming an individual who is losing any and all sense of empathy, hardened by a world in which she feels abandoned by. Parental figures, medical science, schooling, all the systems of society in one way or another failed this woman, and while the film's utter disregard for personal accountability is a bit perplexing, it's hard not to feel empathy for this character, who never received the compassion or empathy necessary to thrive, with society-based systems being so fixated on conforming her to societal norms rather than attempting to understand and console her. Aesthetically featuring elegiac black-and-white cinematography to tell this stark story, this visual decision provides a sensible counterpart to its story of solitude, loneliness, and scorn, with the various shades of gray perfectly evoking the emotions of Olga, a character who sees everyone around her in much similar fashion, various shades of the same cancer. An angry, singular commentary on the need for more human compassion, empathy, and tolerance of others, Petr Kazda & Tomas Weinreb's I, Olga Hepnarova is a powerful and difficult experience, taking the true story of a mass murderer to craft and uncomfortable but essential study of society's failings on the individual.
A fascinating documentary framed in the world where history and investigative journalism collide, Belisario Franca's Boy 23: The Forgotten Boys of Brazil is a documentary of startling poignancy, chronicling Brazil's sordid past, everyday struggles with racism, and the tragic circumstances which found fifty black boys taken from their orphanage in Rio de Janeiro in the 1930s, who were numbered and enslaved by a family of Nazi sympathizers who were a part of the political and economic elite of the country. Examining these events from both an historical and personal perspective, Boy 23: The Forgotten Boys of Brazil is a tragic story of pain, loss, and power, deconstructing the toxic dynamics which exist between power, oppression, eugenics, and racism, letting the historians provide historical context while two survivors of this tragedy, as well as the family of a third, provide personal context to the vast toll such tragedy has on the individual. A fascinating history lesson into Brazil's dark past, Boy 23: The Forgotten Boys of Brazil combines stock footage, individual interviews, and reenactments in stark, black and white photography, to craft a film that isn't simply rooted in the past, but also the present, providing a warning sign for the future, showing a contemporary concern for the treatment of darker-skinned individuals due to a long history of oppression. While the historical context is important and fascinating, Boy 23's strength lies in its more intimate and personal moments involving the survivors of such tragedy, tapping into the longitudal, psychological effect such trauma can have on the individuals, revealing how these survivors stories and hardships were effectively swept under the rug, forgotten in the sea of time until recently, having been left to their own devices, which often included alcoholism and thievery, to survive. These young children were indotrinated into an environment of slavery and hardship, being so unprepared for freedom that when it did come they were simply unprepared for taking care of themselves in the real world. A tragic tale which found many young boys stripped of their youth and abandoned by many, Boy 23 is a startling and important chronicle of the lives lost, being a film that beautifully uses histroical context to point to the importance of less prejudices, and more empathy for others in the present.
Based on the renowned stage play, Denzel Washington's Fences is heavily performance and dialogue-driven, a film that at times feels far too much like a stage play due to its artistic execution, specifically in terms of cinematography and direction. Luckily for the viewer, what the film sorely lacks in visual storytelling it more than makes up in other categories such as performance and screenplay, with nearly every performance from top to bottom being phenomenal. Featuring Denzel Washington, who gives his best performance in years, Fences is a tough film to experience, a story of hardship, circumstance, pain, and self-doubt, documenting one families struggle to get by under the somewhat tyrannical reign of Troy, a father and husband whose tough life experiences have shaped him into an angst-filled, hardened, disgruntled individual, a man who can't help but only see the negatives in life. Slow-building and tense from start to finish, Fences is a film that takes its time developing its main characterizations in Troy and his wife, Rose, with a screenplay that slowly unravels the troubled circumstances of their past, reaching a point where one can't help but feel somewhat sympathetic for Troy, a man whose intense cynicism and grandoise feelings of failure and incompetence in life have made him extremely tough on his offspring; a man whose so broken by a troubled past that his only true place of solace lies at the bottom of a liquor bottle. Rose, the astute and loving wife of Troy, is the glue which holds the family together, a selfless woman who is sympathetic to Troy's troubled past. Constantly stuck between Troy's intense cynicism and her children's hopes and dreams, Rose is a character who finds herself lacking a sense of purpose at times throughout the film, stuck under the totalitarian regime of Troy, a man who simply can't accept help from his own wife, stuck in a death-spiral of self-inflicted despair and angst at a world in which he feels cheated by. Rose is a character who desperately wishes to help, always providing empathy and kindess to her husband, yet she is always put at arms reach, stuck in a perpetual life of solitude due to her husband's inability to truly accept his weaknesses in life and ask for help from his wife, Rose. A story about personal accountability and self worth, Denzel Washington's Fences is a surprisingly powerful and uplifting experience in the end, a film full of hardship which trumpets the importance of having personal accountability but also accepting help when it is neccessary, tapping into the fundamental nature of the importance of individuals need to only focus on what they can control, being the best person they can be, instead of focusing on the outside forces of the world in which one simply cannot control
Nikolaus Geyrhalter's Homo Sapiens is a film about fraility and control, an art installation of sorts about human existence, the structures we've built, the spaces we occupy, and the fragility and finite nature of life as we know it. Exhibiting the lack of value material possession has in the scope of nature and time, Homo Sapiens encapsulates the preciousness of life, detailing not only the deteroriation time has over all things, but also how little control humanity has over the external forces of nature, tapping into how truly insignificant our socially-constructed society is when it comes to the scope of time itself. A film that features absolutely no dialogue, or human-beings for the matter, Homo Sapiens provides beautiful compositions of the places which humanity once inhabited, a place where structural decadence often meets decay. From barren deserts to lush forests, Homo Sapiens encapsulates the far-reaching influence of humanity, juxtaposing the vast influence our cities, structures, and societal constructs have had all over the globe. From playgrounds to prisons, office complexes to shopping centers, Homo Sapiens touches on nearly every aspect of society as we know it today, exhibiting the resiliency of nature and its all consuming ability to provide rebirth. Homo Sapiens is a film that begins to feel like a post-apocalyptic experience, with the utter isolation, deterioration, and stillness providing an experience that is simulatenously soothing and haunting. The film taps into a sense of rebirth through mother nature's long reaching arms, exposing how the external forces of life itself are often far stronger and more vast than any of human societies' endeavors. From simply a photography perspective, Homo Sapiens is a stunning achievement of the highest order, a film that is both intimate and grandoise in its compositions, using depth of field, lighting, composition, and space to create an atmospheric portrait of society, one that is transcendant in its ability to provide perspective of life in the face of time. Nikolaus Geyrhalter's Homo Sapiens is a meditative experience, a film that's imagery can be transcendant, an artpiece which taps into the fundamental aspects of human existence, sharpening the viewers' perceptions of the present while evoking a deeper consciouness about the fragility of existence and humanity as we know it.
Johnny Ma's Old Stone is an angry film, a sociopolitical commentary on the lack of shared empathy in modern China. Scornful towards legal manipulation-fueled bureaucracy which sees a kind-hearted man's life slowly unravel, Old Stone follows Lao Shi, a taxi driver who accidently strikes a pedestrian after an inebriated passenger forces his hand. Opting to save the life of this man instead of waiting for cops to arrive, Lao Shi soon finds himself in a predicament when the insurance company won't cover any of the hospital bills due to him not following company procedure. A film grounded in gritty realism for most of its running time, Johnny Ma's Old Stone is a grating piece of filmmaking, slowly wearing down its central protagonist, Lao Shi, a man who simply wanted to do the right thing. The cost of simply being morally-just becomes so high, with Lao Shi being cheated, now jeopardizing his own' families well-being. One subtle character moment that really gives this character weight comes early in the film, with Lao Chi showing reluctance to even tell his wife about the incident, protective of both her and his daughter's well-being. The silence and calm demeanor of Gang Chen's quiet but devastating performance exhibits a man in a constant state of contemplation, haunted by the situation he finds himself in, where the only way out seems to be through being morally unjust himself. A film that feels like a character study due to its empathetic characterization, Old Stone paints a portrait of a man who is surrounded by individuals who simply don't have the same moral drive, intent on looking out for themselves over all else. There is no grandoise selfish acts in this narrative, only quiet decisions which sees nearly everyone around Lao Shi looking out for their own interests first. HIs own family doesn't want to be dragged down by this potential financial burden, leaving Lao Chi in a place of utter solitude, only having himself to confide in and the hope that empathy and morality of others will eventually shine through. The weight of the world feels thrusted onto Lao Shi towards the end of the film, with the filmmakers' interjecting more expressionistic cinematic techniques, delivering a finale that is a stunning damnation of a system that doesn't place the value of life high enough. Towards the end of the film, Old Stone becomes much more of a thriller, with the quiet introspective moments manifesting a brooding sense of unease. The viewer is left in a state in which they can't help but feel like things are not going to end well for Lao Shi, forced to watch this tragedy unfold in real time. The finale of Old Stone is perhaps best described as a beautiful tragedy, as Lao Chi finds himself freed in a sense from this burden, with his family being taken care of, but at a cost which is simply too high to bare. Some may find the final sequence to be excessive, especially when compared to what comes before it, but it emphatically expresses the film's intentions, doing so in a poetic, yet angry way. A film with a quiet, brooding sense of unease, Johnny Ma's Old Stone is a powerful tale of shakesperian proportions, finding a kind, empathetic man slowly run down by a system which indirectly punishes him for doing what is morally just.
An ode to the city of angels, Damien Chazelle's La La Land is rapturous love story centered around a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress, each of which have big dreams under the bright lights of Los Angeles. Extravagant, grandoise, and playful, La La Land is a throwback to the beloved musicals of the past, featuring a bright and vivid color palette, lavish production design, and an exaggerrated sense of reality, assured in its flamboyance in a way that elicits the inner-emotions of its characters. How Los Angeles is this film you may ask? Well, the film's lavish opening musical number is set on a congested freeway, an opening sequence which announces the arrival of its playful tone and whimsical nature, exhibiting the sense of hopefulness this city can bring out in everyone when it's at its best. The romance between Mia, an aspiring actress, and Sebastian, a jazz musician, mostly works due to the strong chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, but where the film really stood out for me is its deconstruction of creativity, dreams, and personal ambition, being an honest film about the hidden conflict these traits can have with the search for connection, companionship, and love. La La Land's brand of melancholy is rooted in the conflict between personal ambition and uncompromising love, a film that celebrates the promise but also the pain associated with a town such as Los Angeles, where dreams are dashed far more often than they are fulfilled. The strain which such dedication to one's craft can put on a relationship is especially felt throughout La La Land, as the film wonderfully taps into the intrinsic personal nature of art and creativity, exhibiting the unescaple conflict which exists between the desire to express oneself with the world and the shared compassion and selfishlessness that goes into any truly fruitful relationship. Art is selfish in nature, at least at first, and La La Land remains more honest than I was expecting about this inherent conflict between two individuals in Mia and Sebastian, being a film that is uplifting in its abiilty to capture the absolute bravery it takes for one to pursue their passion's in life, constantly fighting the fear of failure and the trauma and uncertainty which comes with it. Due to the film's dedication to being honest about art, creativity, and personal dreams, La La Land's love story beautifully elicits the inherent sacrifice and compromise associated with companionship, being a film which showcases the selflessness needed to truly find fulfillment in a relationship, tapping into the fundamental nature of what it means to be loved. In the end, La La Land is a film that is sure to subvert the expectations of some viewers, but what Damien Chazelle has crafted is an honest portrait of the unpaven roads of life, a whimisical, meloncholy story that is draped in optimism yet authentic about the sacrifices and struggles which take place when one pursues their passions in life.
A nihilistic portrait of a modern times in a small town in the Czech Republic, Petr Vaclav's We Are Never Alone is a story of quiet desperation, sadness, and the inevitable rage which festers in such sorrow, detailing the intersecting lives of a set of hopeless characters, each of which unfortuantely warrants little empathy from the audience. A narrative designed to present a social cross-section of contemporary life in the Czech Republic, We are Never Alone exhibits a stark, unrelenting portrait in which none of these characters even have a glimpse of hope or happiness in their lives, making them hard to empathize with due to the film's over stacked deck of misery and despair. The film lacks any real moments of levity throughout its misery-soaked narrative, with only the smallest glimpses of pitch-black humor offering the audience a break from the unbearable dispair of these characters. The driving force behind the narrative is centered around the relationship which forms between a paranoid prison guard and his neighbor, an unemployed hypochondriac who is completely supported and cared for by his wife. These two men drive the narrative down its death spiral of despair, with their quiet desperation and angst-driven antics leading to pain and misery for nearly everyone around them, including their own families. The tranference of emotion - pain, misery, despair; is felt throughout We Are Never Alone, with perhaps the film's best attribute being its ability to encapture the shared experience that is life, exhibiting how we are all connected to each other in one way or another, while the film darkly and painfully presents the general and inherent selfishness of humanity. Much of this tranference ideal is created through the film's documentation of the Hypochondriac's two young sons, each of which suffer cruel fates in this narrative due in large part to indirect sin's of their father, with each young man in a place of solitude, having no true fundamental understanding of morality, empathy, or how actions have far reaching consequences, all ideas which one should develop through guidance, love, and affection. We Are Never Alone dabbles in a lot of socio-political commentary but it never congeals, with the film at times feeling far too complacent in its desire to wallow in the despair of its characters. The intersecting lives of these characters touch on various socio-political aspects of society, from the uniformaly poor treatment of woman to multiculturalism and the simmering racial tensions which tend to go with it, yet these ideas never fully come to fruition, feeling much more like disjointed vignettes thats only cohesive quality is a shared atmosphere of hopelessness, pain, and alienation. Haphazardly shifting the aesthetic back-and-forth between black-and-white cinematography and color cinematography is a puzzling decision by Petr Vaclav thats purpose eludes me, yet the film's composition is well-thought out and designed, featuring claustrophobic photography that perfectly aligns with the film's overall tone, one of alienation, misery, and despondency. A misery-soaked tale which offers very few moments of levity, Petr Vaclav's We Are Never Alone is a dark and depressing film about pain and misery, being a film that unfortunately never ahcieves the emotional effect it is seeking due to the film's one-note, brooding atmosphere of despair.
Nicolas Pesce's The Eyes of My Mother is a minimalist descent into horror, a film which relies heavily on its transgressive horror qualities to create its chills and shocking circumstances, unfortunately struggling to elevate itself into something more, settling for a diaboloical yarn of subversive horror. Set on a secluded farmhouse, The Eyes of My Mother focuses on Francisca, a young woman, who is raised in an unconventioal way by her mother, a former surgeon in Portural. Learning about anatomy, Francisca is a young girl who grows up unfazed by death due to her mother's peculiar teachings, but when a mysterious stranger enters into her life, shattering the peaceful existence of Francisca's uprbringing, it deeply traumaticizes the Francisca psychologically, awakening dark curiorisities inside her. With her father approaching death, Francisca becomes increasingly lonely and eradic, with her unconventional upbringing and scarred past merging with her isolation and solitude to create a woman whose infaturation with the inner-workings of the human body only leads to chaos and death. Nicholas Pesce's The Eyes of My Mother is best described as a subversive tale of loneliness, a film which desperately tries to create a character in Francisca who is empathetic to the audience, a tough task given the woman's heinous acts she commits throughout the film. The Eyes of My Mother wishes to show how Francesca is a victim of her environment, a young woman who has grown to associate violence and death with pleasure and companionship, with her absolute isolation only stroking the flames of her seering loneliness. Her total lack of understanding when it comes to human empathy and the construct of morality lead her to take part in some truly heinous acts of bloodshed, fueled by her desire to have someone else to share her life with, whether it be a companion or a young child she can look after. The film doesn't quite earn the twisted psychological state of this character it is going for, with her heinous acts and intentions feeling inorganic, simply there to provide further shock value and squemish moments for the audience, even when considering the horrible tragedy involving her mother's brutal murder that unquestionably sent her down this path of pain, solitude, and inevitably darkness. Featuring beautiful and crisp black and white cinematography, Nicholas Pesce's The Eyes of My Mother is a stark, subversive descent into horror and madness, a film that isn't nearly as intelligent or introspective as it aims to be, while delivering some diabolically, transgressive forms of horror filmmaking.
Pablo Larrain's Jackie is not so much a biopic, but a tone poem of pain, loss, grief, and legacy, delivering a emotionally exhausting look at the first lady in the days directly following the death of her husband, the president of the free world. Searing and intimate, Pablo Larrain's film attempts to examine the psychological effect which loss has on the individual, detailing the emotional anguish of a woman whose life is turned upside down, with her own personal loss, one that is greater and more deeply felt, being constantly at odds with the loss felt by a nation. Juxtaposing the decadence of the presidency, the grandoise spaces of the white house, with the dreary, cold exteriors of D.C. in wintertime, Pablo Larrain's film visually evokes the internal conflict of Jackie, a woman who is growing increasingly wary of her husband's legacy, second-guessing her own decisions and how they themselves will help shape how her husband is remembered. The psychological effect of such loss is explored through Jackie's struggles, with Larrain's film profoundly capturing the inherent cruelty which time has on rememberance, as Jackie begins to grow wary of the forces around her, intent on making sure the man she loved is remembered for what he was, a good man who did what he believed was right. While the film's brooding emotions can become quite labarous, I'd argue that is almost the point of Jackie, with the film pulling very little punches when it comes to capturing the troubled psychology of trauma. The guilt, second-guessing, and protective nature of Jackie combine to create a moody atmosphere, with Larrain's film bordering on psychological horror film at times, detailing a woman who constantly struggles internally, questioning herself at nearly every turn. The weight of a nation on her shoulders, Jackie's own internal grief is essentially co-opted by the nation and everyone around her, with perhaps the film's greatest achievement being how it contrasts this national tragedy, with the deeply personal pain which Jackie herself feels. Portman's ability to balance the emotions of such a character is what makes her performance so compelling, crafting a portrait of a woman whose fragility and pain is constantly in conflict with her desire to defend her husband's legacy, protective against the larger forces around her who simply need to move forward. It isn't that these forces are toxic or evil in nature, but from the perspective of Jackie, who has first and foremost lost her husband and father of her two kids, she sees them as lacking personal empathy towards the man and his life, placing Jackie in a place of utter emotional solitude, being one of the only people who viewed him as a person first, president second. Taking one of the most important and tragic moments in American history, the Assassination of JFK, Pablo Larrain has crafted a deeply intimate study of loss, grief, and legacy, a film which questions very nature of rememberance, examining the wide array of emotions experienced by a woman whose personal loss is mimicked by that of an entire nation.
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