A stunning artistic achievement that is ambitious, dense, and structurally bold, Narimane Mari's Les Forts Des Fous is a documentary that defiantly refuses to adhere to traditional formalism, blending reenactment, narrative, and interview footage into a powerful meditation on humanity and civilization. Through the lens of French colonialism, and the lasting impact its oppressive effects have had on the region, Les Forts Des Fous is a mature reflection on power, authority, and liberty, a film which questions the current state of modern society and the intrinsic flaws of mankind. Managing to be surreal, impressionistic, and grounded all at once, Les Forts Des Fous is an evocation on colonialism, showcasing how oppression is often achieved under the deceitful veil of progress. It's a film that recognizes that much of the conflict, violence, and oppression plaguing mankind comes from our own intrinsic fear of that which is different, with the film beautifully juxtaposing the crimes of colonialism against the larger sociological flaws of mankind itself. The oppressive nature of authority and control, how these various power structures elicit conflict in society due to the privileges which they grant is exhibited through the perpetual nature of political violence and conflict, and Narimane Mari's ambiguous feature encapsulates this in a bold formalism, one that is both transcendent and meditative about the contorted relationship between the human condition and political power.
A nuanced familial drama void of didactic exposition and conventional narrative-based formalism, Ilian Metev's 3/4 is a quietly profound portrait of family, one in which much of what is said is done with a visual aesthetic that uses composition, staging, and mise-en-scene to evoke the internal struggles of the various characters in this story. Deconstructing the various dynamics of a family that has quietly found itself at a crossroads, 3/4 presents an organic study of the rhythms of life, where individual pursuits, existential concerns, and various forms of longing all intersect under the intrinsically shared communal experience of family. Through its slice-of-life formalism, 3/4 slowly reveals a family struggling to strike the right balance, with the narrative being driven heavily by a daughter with a bright future, whose internal fear of failure manifests itself in part due to neglect from a father wrapped up in his own scientific pursuits. 3/4 is a story that is honest about the conflict yet communal nature of individualistic pursuits in a familial setting, being a story as much about communication as it is about internal alienation, dissecting these characters whom unbeknownst to them, share many of the same internal struggles but can't find the right words to express it. 3/4 evokes the quiet sense of self-doubt and alienation which comes from within, taking on a subjective visual lens, using tight framing and mise-en-scene to encapsulate the internal fears of Mila, a daughter who lacks the confidence due to a lack of nurturing by her paternal figure. All of these characters have similar traits, yet they each have their own rhythm to how the live their life, and in these rich characterizations Ilan Metev crafts one of the more singular family drams in recent memory, one that resonates in its simplicity. There is something so simplistically profound about Ilian Metev's 3/4, a film that cuts through the melodramatic noise often associated with films about familial conflict, presenting a piercing study of family through an existential lens.
Featuring playful formalism, quirky sensibilities, and a creative visual aesthetic, Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs offers the same heartfelt playfulness one has come to expect from the accomplished contemporary filmmaker, yet, behind this whimsical veneer hides a troubling exploitative core, as Anderson's latest film never comes close to justifying its Japanese setting, being a film that cheaply exploits this rich culture in a way that is misguided at its best, and downright derogatory at its worst. The problem with Isle of Dogs isn't cultural appropriation, as many Westerners are surely going to decry the film for-which is misguided in its own right, given that Japanese culture itself is derived in many ways by its cultivation of other cultures. No, the problem with Isle of Dogs is the film's unwillingness to give this culture its own voice, using it only for cheap comedic gains, serving only the purpose of building Anderson's quirky comedic sensibilities. In Isle of Dogs, Japanese culture is considered outre, used as merely a setting, with the film never coming close to justifying why it is set in Japan in the first place. Perhaps the film's worst aspect is how it literally doesn't give any Japanese character a voice, with the most heinous example being the treatment of the foreign exchange student, a blond haired American student who drives the pro-dog movement and is major force in solving the problems of the story. Anderson's intentions are harmless, no question, but the way Isle of Dogs never justifies its setting, nor gives the culture itself a voice at all in the scope of the story is troubling; one which makes this touching tale about boy and dog, friendship and love, a hard pill to swallow at times.
Bringing one of nerd cultures' most celebrated novels to the big screen, Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One is biting critique of pop culture, celebrity cultism, and general escapism, a film which finds the iconic filmmaker come face-to-face with his own cinematic transgressions as he delivers a film about the importance of "real world" problems. A story intrinsically draped in nostalgia, Ready Player One is a film that feels at odds with itself throughout the course of its running time. Ready Player One romanticizes the larger-than-life, grandiose cinematic escapism which Spielberg made a career on, recognizing the significance and importance such designs can have on society yet it also is unabashedly critical of the internal shallowness which so often manifests itself in such designs, offering up a biting critique of our self-absorbed culture in which personal achievements and shallow escapism often distract from the communal problems plaguing humanity and society as a whole. Ready Player One is a plea for more attention being paid to "the common good", and while I personally don't subscribe to such mythology about "the common good", it is admirable to see a filmmaker such as Spielberg self-critique a culture he had a large part in creating. Ready Player One suffers from many of the same problems plaguing blockbusters of its ilk, namely a running time that overstays its welcome, yet it manages to at least be self-aware in its attempt to balance both its social-thematic assertions with its more vapid thrills and escapism, being a film which largely satisfies on both levels. A celebration and critique of pop culture, Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One is a flawed yet engaging piece of blockbuster filmmaking which manages to be reflective in its deconstruction of how escapism by-definition, often distracts an individual and society itself from what really matters in life.
A striking social critique masquerading as a "black comedy", Corey Finley's Thoroughbred is centered around two upper-class teenage girls living in a lavish suburban Connecticticut, individuals who find their once defunct friendship rekindled due to a shared interest in alleviating themselves from certain problems in their life - mainly, Lily's controlling step-dad. Thoroughbreds' excels both thematically and narratively due in large part to its characterizations, presenting the audience with two characters in a way that intrigues but never completely reveals their intentions. Amanda is the oddball, the sociopath whose ambivalent nature towards everyone and everything leaves her detached. She is a character that is brutally honest about her feelings, or lack there of, being completely void of the facade of politeness expected in general social exchanges. Lily is more what one would expect from an upper-class teenage characterization, an individual whose buttoned-up, proper existence has begun to wear thin. Struggling to deal with a stepdad who refuses support her both financially and emotionally, Lily has developed severe disdain for this man. It's through these two characterizations where Thoroughbreds' social critique manifests itself, as the film slowly subverts one's expectations, revealing a stark commentary on the current state of American society, one in which selfish intentions drive success more than empathy. While it's Amanda who intimidates and concerns the audience with her lack of general emotion early on, the film slowly reveals that Lily is the character who is truly dangerous, an individual who is completely driven by self-interest. Thoroughbreds establishes the step-dad as a character who is unredeemable, presenting him in as a malevolent force, one who only brings oppression and pain into Lily's life, slowly and methodically destroying the bond shared between Lily and her mother. Presenting him as simply, the rich, evil prick early on, Throughbreds completely manipulates the audience, who unbeknownst to them is only seeing this man solely through the perspective of the self-absorbed Lily. We eventually are broken free of this perspective to reveal LIly as a spoiled, selfish character, one whose spite for her step-dad is directly related to his inability to coddle her and financially support her to a fault. His desire for her to forge her own path, void of his influence both financially and socially, is the real reason for their constant confliction, as Lily expects him to support every decision she makes, no matter what, something which it seems her mother was willing to-do before remarrying. While Amanda may speak in a way which frightens people, due to her general ambivalence towards the existential nature of life; it's Lily who is the real predator, the wolf in sheep's clothing, the individual who can cause real harm; as she is the individual who is driven, first-and-foremost by her own self-interests alone, an individual who wields both her financial and social capital for personal gain. Through this narrative bait & switch, Lily transforms into a sinister force, becoming a parable, or better yet, the manifestation of late capitalism and the current problems centered around the oligarchical system in America, one in which financial welfare is expected not earned by those of privileged status. The conclusion of the film perfectly encapsulates the allegorical nature of this tale, one which finds us reintroduced to a version of Lily whom seems to be successful and flourishing personally, with her privileged, self-involved nature being the perfect catalyst for success in the dog-eat-dog nature of contemporary, American life. A film sold very much as a black comedy from a marketing perspective, Thoroughbreds is feels more like a pitch black social commentary, one in which its comedic intentions never disrupt or cheapen the more introspective nature of its story, featuring comedic moments which never feel forced for the mere sake of cutting through the philosophical nature of its commentary on the darker aspects of contemporary human life.
While much of the Romanian New Wave is draped heavily in complex socio-political ambitions, Paul Negoescu's A Month In Thailand offers up a pleasant counterbalance, one which asserts universal truths through its minimalist design A simple slice-of-life story, Negoescu's A Month In Thailand details the romantic follies of Radu, a 20-something male who is stuck in the inertia between adolescence and full-blown adulthood, a character who struggles understanding what he wants in a relationship due to his failures in understanding himself. Much of the film is centered around Radu's sense of doubt and longing, as he finds himself unsure about his current relationship with Adina, a young woman whom seems profoundly in-love with him, a buoy to their companionship which feels unsustainable long term. Radu's reservations are amplified after a chance encounter leads him face-to-face with his ex-girlfriend, Nadia, which only strokes the fires of uncertainty in Radu, who begins to question everything about who he is and what he wants out of a companion. A whollyfully organic observational study, A Month in Thailand is nonjudgmental and holistic in approach. It's a film told completely from the perspective of Radu as he grapples with complex emotions related to temptation, longing, self-doubt, and comfort, all viewed through the context of love and companionship. We as the viewer are given no background into Radu's typical demeanor when it comes to relationships, we have no clue if his indecisiveness and pining for his ex are an anomaly or part of a trend; It doesn't matter because the film's lens lacks judgement, intent instead on delivering an observational deconstructing this character in a way that reveals universal truths related to the confliction between love & self-interest, with Radu himself perhaps having too much the infalliable idolization of what he wants out of a relationship, something which is frankly unattainable. A Month in Thailand's minimal formalism only amplify the universal nature of its story; one which finds a character desperately attempting to find love. Through his stumbles and various follies we see a character who is trying to desperately understand himself, one whose indecisiveness in his relationships stems from his own lack of understanding of himself, a universal truth which often leads to an imbalance in most relationships. A Month In Thailand is a film which doesn't pretend to have any answers to the timeless game of courtship, companionship, and ultimately love; All it offers is a window into the struggles of one man in Radu, using this character to evoke some profound assertions related to the importance of understanding oneself as it pertains to finding love and companionship.
Bursting with creativity and ingenuity in every aspect of its visual design, Masaaki Yuasa & Koji Morimoto's Mind Game is a psychedelic, coming-of-age experience which lives up to its title. A dense, sensory experience, Mind Game follows Nishi, a loveable loser, who after a deadly encounter with two yakuza finds himself transported to a metaphysical world somewhere between heaven and hell, one which sends him and his friends down a path of self-discovery. Featuring one of the most innovative animation styles that blends traditional anime with western sensibilities, Mind Game provides a subversive, hallucinatory experience, one which would have certainly been a regular fixture of the midnight movie scene if it had been released a few days prior. Thematic assertions related to self-pity and meritocracy, fixtures of the coming-of-age story, are intact, yet Mind Game is a film one simply wishes to experience, being an innovative animation built largely around subversion; it's visceral, unapologetic, and kinetic from start-to-finish; a film which shouldn't be missed for its transcendental aesthetic which makes it a one-of-a-kind experience.
A stark, portrait of life under the restrictive, Islamic regime in Tehran, Iran, Ali Soozandeh's Tehran Taboo is an intersectional ensemble detailing the search for liberty, agency, and happiness in a society rooted in cultural and moral oppression through state censorship. Detailing the lives of young individuals looking to make their way in the world, Tehran Taboo is an impressionistic portrait of life without promise, as the film exhibits a world with little future for many of its young protagonists, characters who are stuck in their tracks due to oppressive nature of government policies that restrict personal liberty and freedom. A place with no future for many of these individuals, Tehran Taboo is a vivid reminder of the importance of individual liberty in any meaningful society, showing through its characters how a prosperous culture is predicated on the mobility of its citizenry, something which is not allocated in this society. Moral police, decency codes, and censorship are used by the state to restrict and control the populace, as Tehran Taboo is a startling reminder to the West of the paramount importance of individual liberty; something which should never be controlled or mandated by any central authority or power structure, such as the state. For the female characters of this story, there is no future for them as individuals in this society; they find their whole existence predicated on the wills of the men in their life, as the laws and various "decency codes" restrict female agency, making these woman effectively property to their male counterparts. A story with no happy endings, the only female character to find some semblance or power or agency in this story is the sex worker, a woman whom uses her attributes to forge a better life for her son. Her portrait is one that is a reminder of the need for feminism to be removed from its puritanical influences, as while her profession may be viewed as immoral by many, she has found some semblance of freedom in this restrictive culture, deriving power from the male gaze to better life for herself and her son. A stark, powerful portrait of contemporary Iranian Society, Tehran Taboo is startling reminder of the importance of individual liberty, and what it truly means to be free.
Armando Iannucci has forged a career out of delivering memorable political satires which manage to be uproariously funny, while quietly potent in the way they tackle the often nefarious nature of political power and bureaucracy, showcasing the way such power structures tend to be wielded by those with merciless ambitions for scoping society in the way they deem necessary. With The Death of Stalin, Iannucci has found his sacred cow, detailing the absurdities of the authoritarianism under Joseph Stalin, as his latest film chronicles the power vacuum left behind after Stalin's sudden death from a brain hemorrhage, when the high ranking administers of the communist party conspired amongst themselves in an attempt wield the centralized power of the state. Dealing with a regime which was responsible for the slaughter of millions of its own people, Iannucci's film is essentially "sometimes you have to laugh so you don't cry" in cinematic form, a witty, sharp comedy which manages to find the humor in abhorrent political violence, demonstrating the absurdities of having any type of central authority with such power over everyone else. Centralized power and totalitarian regimes attract those individuals who seek such control and power, and the way Iannucci's film manages to exhibit this absurdity of politics with witty dialogue and biting satire makes the whole experience highly enjoyable yet potent, showcasing the corrosive nature of authority during the reorganization of power under such a regime. Through the various individuals of the cabinet, who connive and conspire to stake out their new role, The Death of Stalin exposes how objective truth is often the enemy of authoritarian regimes, as the state itself must be absolute and infallible, having a rhetoric typically placated to theology, intent on leading the masses for the sake of the "motherland" or "the common good". By chronicling the aftermath of Stalin's death, Ianncci's film exhibits how often the winner of such political games are the ones most cutthroat in his ambitions cc: Stalin vs. Trotsky, as men who don't share this absolutist tendency- men who value empathy, individualism, and liberty- are often crushed by these nefarious individuals intoxicated by the promise of wielding such authority, no matter the moral implications. The Death of Stalin is a uproariously entertaining deconstruction of authority and central power, managing to detail a dark, violent regime through biting satire with profound results.
A tonally shapeshifting piece of cinema that blends satirical elements with deep-cutting indictments of consumerism and neo-colonialism, Djibril Diop Mambety's Hyenas questions this form of societal progress, detailing how the politics of debt and austerity imposed on the Senegalese people at a local level restricts personal freedom and imposes control over the populace through such measures. The narrative itself is a brash but clever allegory, one which a local grocery finds himself slowly ostracized and oppressed due to the return of an ex-lover, a former resident of the once-prosperous Senegalese village who promises to bestow great wealth and prosperity to the financially struggling village, but only if they punish this local shopkeeper, and her ex-lover, for his past crimes against her. A lovers quarrel is effectively politicized in the course of this narrative, with Djibril Diop Mambety's film revealing how power and control can be wielded through extreme wealth. While the villagers don't agree to punish the shopkeeper directly, adamant that "justice is not for sale", it's how this wealthy woman achieves her control and "justice" indirectly, using austerity-type measures through the creation of consumerism, slowly and meticulously providing the town with various consumer products, sculpting and shaping the culture in a way in which they will eventually have to comply with her dreams of vengeance; with the people being seduced by this new way of life. The transformation of this Senegal village from poor but empathetic to one in which one which consumer goods and material wealth is championed above nearly all else is disturbing and diabolical in the context of this story, as the story itself and the transformation is viewed through the eyes of the shopkeeper, a man who slowly begins to realize his life itself may be in danger, due to the populace being seduced by the vapid promises of consumerism and material possession. While Djibril Diop Mambety's Hyenas may wrongfully be a proponent of cultural and economic protectionism, there is no denying the film's clever formalism used to bestow its rightful concerns and critiques related consumerism and economic colonialism, as the filmmaker delivers another sharp, important work that should be seen by anyone who speaks of prosperity for all.
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