A post-WWII America historiography purveyed through the exploits of a silent generation aged mob enforcer, Martin Scorsese's The Irishman is undoubtedly one of the filmmakers most ambitious endeavors. Using the filmmaker's familiar mob-based narrative structuralism as an artifice for examining American culture and the shifting dynamics which take place within it, Scorsese's depiction of Post-WWII America finds machismo embedded into any notions of progress. Through the lens of its main protagonist, Frank Sheeran, a mob hitman, the film depicts the debilitating nature such crude dynamics place on the individual and the culture at large. Machismo is presented as a blinding force, a primal intuition which subverts reflection or introspection, serving as a perfect accomplice to the vicissitudes of power which ultimately seek control through authority and the disruption of collective consciousness. Such intrusive forces ultimately subvert and disrupt the empathetic nature of the human condition, and in the case of Frank Sheeran it leads him to a place of alienation from those he loves the most - his family. Frank is a character who is completely blinded by the man he has become, corrupted by this lifestyle in which pride, strength, and aggression are rewarded. This corrosive way-of-life leaves him completely alienated in the end, with his daughter being the whole fulcrum to the emotional and arguably thematic arch of this story - a character who grows up in the shadows of such violence and aggression. Beautifully portrayed by Anna Paquin, this character represents the empathetic nature of the human condition; She represents purity and innocence, and her fear of her father quickly grows into outright disdain, incapable of accepting her father's mindset - one sculpted by such notions of machismo and power. In a sense, Martin Scorsese's The Irishman is the filmmaker's magnum opus, an accumulation of his various gangster films that feels particularly salient due to its introspective mapping of post-War Americana.
An immersive, exhaustive investigation of the carceral state, Brett Story's The Prison in Twelve Landscapes meditative yet tactical, exposing the degradation of a system in which punishment is paramount and rehabilitation is a facade in which little support is allocated. The film's structuralism features a series of vignettes, each standing alone as observant, humanistic exposes into the lives effected by such a system. These vignettes form a holistic whole, detailing the vastness of such a system and how this broad state network effects so many aspects of life through exploitation - the state profiting off the mystery of its own citizens. From prison labor to stop-and-frisk, The Prison in Twelve Landscapes is a calm yet piercing evocation on the state of the prison industrial complex in America
While not as incisive or transcendent as Driver's Sleepwalk, When Pigs Fly explores similar themes in a more accessible framework, employing the ghost story archetype to tell its tale of domestic abuse and retribution. Defying strict genre classification, When Pigs Fly is somber yet sweet, playful yet piercing, finding a balanced approach in its evocation on the unseen violence which lurks in shadows of society. Visually inventive in its visual designs which evoke the supernatural world of its story in a fresh and effective way, the linear narrative framework of When Pigs Fly never feels generic, tedious, or saccharine, a testament to Sara Driver's ability as a storyteller.
A hallucinatory evocation of tentacled nature of self doubt, passion, obsession and the perilous pursuit of perfection, Ivan Zulueta's Arrebato employs a surrealist formalism in which the natural world itself becomes subjugated by the rapturous psyche of a drug-addicted filmmaker whose life is consumed by his craft. Ruminations on art, documentation, and cinema are throw in a blender, as Arrebato's narrative set-up, which I won't detail here, provides an exhaustive avenue of expression, an avenue which fully exhibits the power and magic of cinema as an artistic medium. One of the most singular cinematic experiences one is likely to experience, this loosely defined horror film brings a maelstrom of panache, creativity, and intrigue. Arrebato in a sense is a cinephile's wet dream, a surrealist amalgamation of cinema's ability to shift the ontological lens in wholly unique, ingenious, and transformative ways,
Too saccharine yet it thoroughly exposes the deceptions implicit in the American dream. Kevin Bacon is dynamic, Renfrow's performance another tragic reminder of the talent we lost, and the direction is strong, having a good balance to its imagery, picking the right moments to be impressionistic by design. The film's structuralism and saccharine nature feels like an explicit decision - the traditional and ultimately quite wholesome narrative arch juxtaposed with the performative facade of success. Kevin Bacon's deception of this malleable young man is a dark implication of the English aphorism 'fake it til you make it' in which the ethical life is obfuscated by vapid notions of success rooted in materialism.
Views humanity through a deeply nihilistic lens, the western frontier providing the perfect epoch for Giulio Questi's outre style and cynical polemics. Django Kill.. If you Live, Shoot posits humanity as an intrinsically selfish force, the tangible nature of gold itself eliciting extreme violence. Men are deduced to their most primal impulses of unbridled machismo, slaves to the allure and promise which gold affords those which possess it, a chain reaction which leads to extreme violence. Perhaps overlong but this hallucinatory acid-trip Western sees Questi at the top of his game, with sharp compositions, visual assemblies, and lavish mise en-scene which project artistic ingenuity while providing a cunning juxtaposition to the film's gritty, extreme violence.
An impressionistic nightmare which shows no restraint in its presentation of violence, On The President's Orders details the extra-judicial killings under the regime of President Duterte and his heinous "war on drugs" with the proper sense of poignancy and urgency this subject matter requires. Expansive in its discursive strategies yet pointed in exposing the intrinsic problems with punishment, the few ethical critiques I've seen about this film I honestly find quite baffling. To call the filmmaker's rich aesthetic design " boasting" or "unnecessary" completely misses the point, as this design is instrumental in evoking the sadness, degradation and oppression felt by those the film empowers through its visual medium of expression. The whole aesthetic creates an immersive experience - tension, unease, and outright terror traverse the documentary format, detailing how the poor are always the ones subjugated the worst by any state policy fixated around some intangible sense of morality or consumption. The rhetoric of President Duterte and its polemics reverberates throughout the entire state apparatus, empowering violence by the state via the police, with the less fortunately almost always being the easiest target. Exposes the facade of safety and/or discipline when exhibited from a place of authority, the carceral state incapable of reform due to its intrinsic need to punish. But hey, if you just obey the law, you know?
Set against the backdrop of the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, Ornien Glavonic's The Load is an intimate yet observational character study, one in which the sting of silence reverberates throughout with piercing effect. Structurally a character piece with a rather simple narrative which intrigues, never distracts, and ultimately strengthen's the film's underlying intention, The Load encapsulates this sense of stagnation and stillness throughout its plotting, with this silence often only disrupted momentary by the enclaves of civilization which our main protagonist encounters along his long journey from Kosovo to Belgrade. Terror tends to be associated with some variant of action or bombast and yet its more primal state often comes in the quieter moments, the moments which expose how much the repetitious and mundane aspects of everyday life are taken for granted. Events of a cataclysmic nature disrupt such perceived trivialities - the casual smile, the petty argument, or vapid yet cordial exchange - revealing the social deterioration which takes place under abject trauma, the dissolution of a nation providing a powerful expose on familiar themes of identity and diaspora. There is a personal intimacy to this particularly epoch, as The Load offers an incisive juxtaposition which traverses generations - the objective experience of the bombing giving way to the subjective interpretation of the events. Manifestations of resentment, anger, acceptance, and degradation reverberate quietly throughout this character piece, with The Road managing to be deeply personal but also universal, detailing the psychological effects of displacement - implicit in how it exposes the abstract nature of the nation state through its impressionistic examination of the innocent people caught in the crosshairs of geopolitics.
Surrealism used as a device to heighten and evoke existential inquiry with positive results. Phuttiphong Aroonpheng's Manta Ray exudes an understated sense of vibrancy, exhibiting a borderline spiritual experience in which affect is a palpable construction. Ontological in its approach, Manta Ray's rich textual aesthetic evokes and reinforces the subtextual qualities of the film's exploration of a host of issues - identity, diaspora, agency, assimilation - delivering a striking, albeit somewhat familiar meditative study of the human condition which is certainly worth a look. Piercing and memorable imagery throughout this one.
A little more politically pointed than the prior two films, 3 From Hell brings the same blunt force trauma sensibilities to a narrative framework in which Zombie not-so-subtly critiques the carceral state, beckoning to Dostevesky famous 'Judge a Society by its prisons' quote in the most Rob Zombie way possible. Zombie films are the antithesis of nuance or introspection and yet the man understands horror on a far more primordial level than most. The thin yet paramount line which separates organized society from chaos is often nothing more than faith in the institutions and systems which support it, as Zombie's acid trip of macabre plays off this quite effectively, displaying in its three heinous, insane leads characters whom have rejected society completely, with morality becoming an afterthought when life itself is viewed as meaningless, purposeless, or unjust. Zombie isn't interested in a sympathetic portrait - he is too interested in dabbling in various motifs of subversive horror - but these characters remain outcasts who've rebelled through use abject violence. There is something there, something in which I wish the filmmakers would have shown more interest in fully expressing but I mean, its a Rob Zombie film aka It's far from incisive but it's interesting none-the-less.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.