The cool guy from Burning and his wife (Yeri Han of the recent Wolf Brigade remake) are professional chicken sexers starting an Arkansas farm to grow Korean veggies in their spare time. Yuh-Jung Youn (Sense8 and a couple Hong Sang-soo films) is MVP as their grandma. The kids hide from parental arguments and reluctantly spend time with grandma, who feeds them weird things and teaches them to be aggressive card players. Potential dangers include snakes, a heart murmur, a cross-dragging Christian (Will Patton), and drought + trash fire, which strikes when grandma, struggling after having a stroke, accidentally burns down the storeroom while the others are in Tulsa. Funny timing since this week I was playing an album for the first time in decades that I bought in Tulsa when our family drove down from Arkansas. The sympathetic, struggling family and personal resonance wasn’t enough to make the actual movie, a brownish wood-paneled drama, especially great.
We thought we’d already seen intense, slippery, ethically complex movies at True/False, and then this one came along, a hybrid documentary in which an actor (Valentijn Dhaenens, playing “Europe”) interacts with classrooms of refugees hoping to be accepted into a European country, taking different approaches. After an immigration-philosophy intro, in Act 1 Dhaenens is harsh and accusatory, says new immigrants will cost his country money and they’ll import religious beliefs which run counter to state law. V. Rizov: “There’s a bracing, hateful clarity in someone who’s willing to say exactly what they mean, even/especially if it’s vile.”
In Act 2 he’s generous and understanding, says Europe owes them all charity due to its colonialist past. Europe has resources to go around, and he points to a study saying that erasing state borders entirely could bring all states greater wealth. In Act 3 he follows the rules, eliminating anyone not eligible for residency in the Netherlands, then he interviews the rest to see whose stories hold up, until just three remain.
After mastering montage and close-quarters conflict, Stranger closes strong in a new mode with a super-long (both distance/time) shot epilogue; now “out of character” on the street, Dhaenens meets a group of migrants who ask for cigarettes. Given what we’ve been watching for an hour, the suspicion that they might take violent, understandable revenge on the outnumbered teacher (thereby setting up any number of racist headlines about migrants running wild) lurks, but instead everyone has a nice chat. By the time Dhaenens points back to the director behind the camera it’s increasingly clear that this tableaux as staged as anything in the film (for this sequence, the migrants wrote their own dialogue). Here’s another film that summarizes with great clarity a particularly sordid/inhumane strain of contemporary thought it’s attempting to combat, while at the same time pointing out how unhelpful the film itself is in effectuating change.
Katy says the movie, particularly the epilogue conversation, seemed ethically unsound until the director’s Q&A assured us that the refugees were paid participants, aware of the film’s structure and intentions, and the final scene was even scripted (though based on a real conversation).
I’d been looking forward to Sarah Kendzior’s intro, which she read stiffly from a book of notes and didn’t hold half the interest as Jeong’s Star Wars net neutrality essay. Kendzior is still a catastrophist, but at least she humorously acknowledged that her worst predictions about our country haven’t (yet!) come to pass.
At first I thought Audiard seems influenced by the Godfather movies, from the young enforcer who takes over a crime business in A Prophet to this movie’s immigrant stories (dunno how Rust & Bone would fit in), but after it became clear that Dheepan was heading towards rage and revenge, I thought of it as a more currently-fashionable Harry Brown (others are saying Straw Dogs).
The most interesting twist: Dheepan and his “family” are only pretending to be a family in order to get refugee status and flee Sri Lanka, where Dheepan was a Tamil Tiger. They live together like strangers, only playing the family role for outside observers, but gradually begin to respect and protect each other. Meanwhile, the block of apartments where they live and work is a drug hub which turns violent when lead dealer Vincent Rottiers (young Jean in the Renoir biopic) returns from prison. With these pieces in place, the movie gets to create a crowd-pleasing finale where Dheepan draws on his violent past to protect his makeshift family. M. D’Angelo: “After nearly two hours of depicting the improvised family’s patient adjustments, negotiations, and compromises, Audiard abruptly switches to Hollywood fantasy, and there’s no sign that he’s doing so ironically, metatextually, or with any other subversive purpose in mind.”
Still a pretty good movie. I’m not as upset about this winning the palme d’or (or Loach winning in 2016) as others are. Regardless of the winner, I’m still seeking out as many of the acclaimed competition films as possible (so far: Carol, The Assassin, The Lobster, Sicario).
Rock goddess Tilda Swinton is relaxing at a Mediterranean island paradise with boyfriend photographer Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone) when her ex, music producer Ralph Fiennes (an overpowering, charismatic performance) shows up with his newly-discovered daughter Dakota Johnson (Black Mass). Sexual and other tensions get extremely high, and the movie, which has an otherwise excellent soundtrack, tries in vain to get me to appreciate the Rolling Stones song “Emotional Rescue.”
I was disappointed when the story twists into murder-investigation territory after Matthias drowns a belligerent drunk Ralph in the pool, but this ends up justified. After initial interviews the chief investigator reveals himself to be a trembling Tilda superfan, gets her autograph and lets them all go. Tilda had previously, not at all convincingly, suggested to him that one of the immigrants flooding onto the island (many dying at sea) could have snuck onto the property, drowned Ralph, stolen nothing and run off. We didn’t realize that Tilda or her friends, in their wealthy bubble, even noticed the immigration crisis in the background noise around them – until it becomes useful to get themselves out of trouble.
Based on a story previously filmed by Jacques Deray with Alain Delon, and by Francois Ozon with Charlotte Rampling. Played in Venice with Anomalisa, Francofonia, Blood of My Blood and 11 Minutes. I finally warmed up to “Emotional Rescue” during the St. Vincent cover over the closing credits.
There are few better metaphors for the myopia of hedonism than a swimming pool on an island paradise surrounded by the sea … In lesser hands, this could’ve been a Woody Allen movie, but Guadagnino — always with his chef’s hat on — takes the ingredients for a sunbaked creampuff and slowly stirs them into a three-course meal. Working with regular cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, Guadagnino shoots in a sensual register where every shot feels just a hair too perfect to exist anywhere outside the movies. Snap zooms playfully focus on emotions that burst like firecrackers, rhythmic cuts throw you back on style whenever things risk becoming too realistic, and Marianne’s aviator shades reflect every character against their true intentions. Best of all, the soundtrack is wild and true, running the gamut from Harry Nilsson to Popol Vuh.