The first film of Shyam Benegal's that I didn't outright adore, and by and large I really struggled to get into this one beyond its formal merits. The Seventh Horse of the Sun could be described in part as a formal exercise, an ode to storytelling, and the abstract nature of objective truth when levied by subjective experience. A complex story structure examines the interplay between memory and experience and the social-economic externalities versus the interiority of affect. I don't know, I just struggled to connect to this film at all on an emotional level, despite the rather pointed critique of how certain social and economic constructs quantify love in ways that repress its true nature. Commonality, social harmony, progress, and individual growth are all congruent with the tangible qualities we define as love yet divisions among class and gender subservience, restrict this realization. Benegal's film is a complex exercise and one that certainly has many merits. I just struggled to draw much of a connection to the underlying story, finding it to be ultimately an interesting formal exercise about storytelling and its intrinsic amalgamation of truth and invention that becomes too unwieldy to deliver a compelling experience for me on an emotional or character level.
Tam's Burning Snow in many respects is one of his most cold, hopeless films - the promise of escape through love and connection is nothing but a reprieve from the abuse and subjugation at the hands of oppression. Our main protagonist can not free herself from her prison through the circumvention of violence, or peaceful departure, and Burning Snow posits violence as a necessity for release. Where the forbidden love archetype suggests the potential for escape, even in the film's moments that focus on this shared affection there is little warmth to be found. The two lovers are enshrouded by the cold blue-hued aesthetic that engulfs the entirety of their surroundings, as Tam effectively constructs an edifice of emotional desolation due to physical and emotional abrasion. Burning Snow is deeply sensual but not affectionate - the body ravaged, the mind degraded, the release from this pain is only temporarily circumvented by affection from another but ultimately a sustainable release must come through the personal seizure of control intrinsic to violence. Officially the last Tam film I hadn't seen - Sad moment, but certainly safe to say he is one of the most underappreciated filmmakers who I feel like if he just happened to be born a few years later he would have been a household name among the likes of his protege WKW.
I'll openly admit I haven't been much of a fan of Lowery's work to-date. He is an effective stylist no doubt, but I've largely found his films to fall flat when it comes to emotion, often feeling very cold and off-putting when you step back from the impressive visual tableaux. While I wouldn't say The Green Knight completely sheds that stigma but it remains his most impressive feature to date. A beguiling fantasy that lends itself to Avant-garde flourishes, projecting a dream-like atmosphere that manages to feel grandiose in its existential designs but it also can feel self-serious and overwrought, desperate to achieve honor and glory in its dramatics similar to its main character who searches for it among the social order. Lowery doesn't spend too much when it comes to character development, like at all, but this fantastical journey projects a consistent lucidity to its otherworldly designs, managing to craft a visual poetry ripe with deception, elucidating one of the underlying themes related to the failings of such pursuits as honor and glory. Honor can be an external fabrication, a deception in itself that distracts us from what we really desire in life, our internal impulses being pure and honest. The games men play and the human toll it has both on the body and the soul is something that feels transparent to me in The Green Knight. While I still think this film struggles at times from feeling too self-serious, The Green Knight manages to overcome that as well as its flawed characterizations, being my favorite film of Lowery's to date but also one that makes me begin to question if he will ever deliver something which truly is effective on a humanistic level. For many, I would suspect this film will manage to confuse as much as titillate.
Gasper Noe's evocation on mortality is perhaps prescriptive yet its formal designs are distinct and effective at elucidating the slow, methodical deterioration of the mind and body that is completely out of our control. It's accurate to say that Vortex is not quite like anything Noe has made before, largely due to his more tempered tonality and simple narrative schematics that are rooted more in quiet observation than flamboyant dramatics but with that in mind, Vortex in many ways feels like a natural progression for the filmmaker too. The existential questions of experience and living have been a part of his work for a while, with the distinction here being the film is far more rooted in the acceptance of mortality and the impermanence of life due to mental and/or physical death. While some of his earlier work could be considered nihilistic when it comes to this exploration, Vortex feels far more contemplative about its value despite the filmmaker's natural proclivities as a provocateur. Control in many ways is simply a fabrication we create about our lives to feel a sense of security and/or safety, and Vortex through its simple construction enunciates the fragility of our relationships due to our material existence in a way that despite its sadness remains celebratory more than nihilistic about the beauty of life - at least for Noe. The end is an inevitability, the wonders of life and our shared experience while living when stood up against the great darkness that comes for us all is a dream.
An endearing and authentic expression of young love which exhibits the shared experience and unquenchable desire for togetherness through an efficient formal design imbued with spontaneity and the intrinsic awkwardness of being a novice. The ethereal quality of love is beautifully expressed through a keen directorial vision, one driven through a similar but deviation of cinema verite style in which the film is tactically expressive, choosing just the right amount of artifice. A narrative that springs to life through a tenderly written courting phase and evolves in a way in which the artifice is measured but not seen, Jeremy is an enchanting evocation on first love in which the impermanence of such jubilation is brought by the reality of probability and external factors. For Jeremy and Susan, happenstance leads to the fracturing of their relationship but it is inevitably destroyed due to their lack of autonomy guaranteed by adolescence. As a film, Jeremy never feels anything but genuine and sincere in its belief in this young couple's love, assured in its intimate capturing of this relationship which feels nostalgic for that feeling again.
Old-world opulence and heteronormative traditions juxtaposed against the new-age way of life. Fascism contextualized around tradition and its resistance towards any type of social progression that disrupts its authority. Walken's character is a manifestation of the heteronormative male ego. His fascistic impulse deeply rooted in strict, traditional notions of masculinity and the inevitable destruction he causes in the end is defined by his repugnance towards any other way of defining masculinity. Venice is the perfect spatiality for The Comfort of Strangers, its luminous old-world opulence is materially stunning yet it's largely photographed in a way that expresses how it is barren of life. The dark alleyways and various enclaves along the canals take up the majority of this film's set-pieces, in a sense enunciating the clash between the old and the new in yet another fashion. While some may find this film to be a little tepid in its pacing, I didn't really have a similar struggle with The Comfort of Strangers. It feels like such a sensual, rich text, and a fascinating entry in Schrader's oeuvre, arguably his most visually impressive film, and one that navigates some fascinating ideas in which Schrader himself seems to suggest he is tethered to many aspects of the old world.
Impeccably crafted sports film in which having any knowledge of Majong is largely inconsequential to the film's overall effectiveness. To's directional touch is incredibly assured here, his precise use of movement enhances the dynamism of the game while the camera's gaze often fixates on hand movements and other gestures intrinsic to Mahjong, making the whole experience compelling but also discernible even for those unfamiliar with the rules. The film's plot is imbued with an amorphous quality due to its peculiar characters and general free-flowing rhytyms - embracing its underlying theme through the construction of a narrative that never feels pre-determined or even devised. The text of a sports film used to illuminate the nature of living - no matter how far we've risen or fallen among the social hierarchy we are constantly in a state of flux, fundamentally lacking control of our lives due to the broad swath of externalities that consistently influence our place in this world. Fat Choi Spirit uses gambling and the nature of chance intrinsic to any sport to elucidate this theme. To be clear, there isn't any sense of nihilism here, quite the opposite, as the filmmakers openly express this lack of control from a positive perspective, one in which our lives are never set, no matter how bad things can be, no matter how far we fall, things can get better and we must remember that and continue to play this game we call life.
Despite the film's technical prowess and effective formal designs rooted in low-fi aesthetics and a keen directorial eye for compositions that fit the film's sleazy spatiality, Zola ultimately feels very much like a film uninterested in actually engaging in underlying social issues related to sex work, puritanical notions of morality, legality, and personal autonomy despite a proclivity towards exhibiting these ideals. This, of course, is more than fine if the film aims to be rooted solely in escapism or heightened realism intent on exhibition/representation of a sub-culture not often seen, but ultimately Zola feels uninterested on expanding on its thin source material, offering instead something that feels facile both in theme and characterization. There are a lot of interesting ideas in this film, and the cast does do a great job at embodying the various characters, but ultimately it feels like a film that needed to either be 30 minutes longer or 15 minutes shorter, caught between pointed cultural critique and exhibition of the underseen, under-discussed aspects of contemporary life which leaves it feeling interesting but ultimately more inconsequential than it should be.
Vulnerability unless commodified has no purpose in a contemporary culture that strives for engagement and a facile definition of positivity rooted in subversion instead of acceptance of existential longing. Featuring a familiar conceptual framework, Sweat could have easily been another pointed critique of narcissistic social media culture and the artificial and performative facade it creates over reality. While the film certainly navigates around these ideas, it's the filmmaker's dedication to the principle characterization and her complexities as a person that helps elevate Sweat, ultimately differentiating itself in the way that her journey isn't simplistic or linear but a consistent struggle in service for her underlying identity, as she implicitly searches for a sense of self-worth and happiness that cannot be defined by external forces. In a sense, Sweat is optimistic, determining that humanism and our behavioral impulses will ultimately repudiate the pervasive nature of technology and its effects on the social. Sweat is familiar but genuinely crafted, a film that in its thematic intentions never forgets that the key to success lies in its principle characterization
A little unclear if this is intentionally depraved in its depiction of masculine sexual aggression but this subversive spin on the rom-com feels downright farcical in the way its two male protagonists coerce Cherie towards their desires with no disregard for her as anything more than an object to serve their needs. The film's denouement suggests that the filmmakers know what they are doing, and the tonal elasticity here really stands out. Operating at times like a traditional rom-com yet conceptionally imbued with a commentary that invites investigation into heteronormative gender roles, expectations, and the coercive power dynamics at play, Cherie is a silly rom-com in construction but one that feels conscripted to make a point about the male ego through its formal conception. The film's lighthearted tone when dealing with jokes related to date rape is played for laughs yet they have a dual focus, serving what feels like farcical intentions about the absurdity of normative gender dynamics. Tam's keen directorial style is perhaps a bit more understated in what would feel like his most accessible film to date in his career, yet the interior spaces in this film are strikingly constructed in terms of the mise-en-scene and compositional aptitude.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.