Not trying to join the Stereogum Anniversary Culture, but I happened to watch this on the tenth anniversary of its premiere. This is bound to happen at least once during Cannes Week. Rounding out my viewing of Mungiu’s major features right before his brand-new one debuted, this one’s a prime example of a movie good enough to transcend its dreary subject matter (insular religious cultures; see also Silent Light).
Much of the appeal is in the character of Alina (Cristina Flutur of Backdraft 2, what?). She and Voichita (Cosmina Stratan of the Border guy’s surrogate pregnancy movie) were orphanage sisters, now separated, and Alina returns to visit then refuses to leave. She’s extremely needy, fearing abandonment, but also acts impossible so she can’t stay anywhere. Both the hospital and Voichita’s quiet monastery say they’re overcrowded during renovations, and anyway, Alina isn’t a believer. But she’s devoted to her friend, so the nuns read Alina a list of all 464 sins to see which she has committed, then when she’s violent they tie her down to drive out her evil spirits, but she’s also convulsive, and they leave her tied too long, and she dies. Seems like an openhearted, respectful take on a tragic story, made in the good ol’ master-shot long-take foreign-arthouse style.
Documentarian, drama therapist, and legal representative round up some men who were sexually abused by priests and let them direct short films representing past traumas or wish fulfilment, scouting locations and acting in each other’s stories. Fits in nicely with Greene’s project of making semi-docs about performance and history, also seems to exemplify some utopian ideas of collaborative film directing. Alas, no screenshots since it is a netflick.
“Intelligence can be dangerous” – is this a quote from the movie, or something I wrote while watching it? A plague is going around, both within and without the movie, so I watched at home and took cryptic notes.
Benedetta’s dad pays for both his daughter and a beaten incest girl named Bartolomea to enter a convent under abbess Charlotte Rampling. Bene dreams that a cartoon superhero Jesus saves her from violent rapists then attacks her, also sees dodgy CG snakes and other miracles on the regular. The higher-ups decide she’s faking but keep that to themselves and make Bene the new abbess. She invites Bartolo to her bed, but sexual pleasure is not allowed in historical times, so both nuns must be tortured, per church leader Lambert Wilson.
The plague takes Rampling, and suicide takes her daughter/spy Louise Chevillotte (Synonyms and the last couple Garrels). Bene (Sibyl star Virginie Efira) lives out the rest of her days at the convent in a postscript title, and I already can’t remember if Daphne Patakia (the mimic of Nimic) lives or what. Fun movie with witty writing, but it’s still a nun drama, one of my least favorite genres.
Voiceover on opening titles tells us it’s a city film and has no story, good to get that out of the way. Italian folklore involves praising the ducks for helping the army? (google says it was geese). As expected, everyone is crazy for the pope. Memories of filmgoing with obstructed-view seats. The rainy highway sequence is a highlight. I know my standards have been lowered by a recent Argento, but sometimes the dubbing is almost good, like somebody gave a shit. Cheerfully profane once it gets to the theater for a variety show. Ancient artworks are discovered beneath the city, then minutes later the air exposure destroys them. Significant time spent with prostitutes, of course. Corny holy fashion show, and an outstanding Anna Magnani cameo. Bikers ride through the city at night, and okay so it’s not a narrative movie, but it really lacks an ending.
In a dismal grey-brown postapocalypse, Denzel hunts and cooks a cat, robs a corpse then relaxes to listen to his zune. Even babies wear sun goggles in town, the sun deadlier than ever since the nuclear event punched holes in the atmosphere. Local warlord Gary Oldman wants a bible to help control the populace and spread his influence, but passer-through Denzel has the only surviving copy, and is an unnaturally badass fighter, so a showdown ensues. Denzel and Mila Kunis leave town down the fury road, but Gary’s caravan catches up, and more showdowns ensue. The action’s not bad – an early slaughter, backlit under a bridge, puts a reminiscent scene from Resident Evil 6 to shame.
Most importantly, we are in Tom Waits Mode, and he appears in this movie as “the engineer,” aka he runs a barter shop across the street from Oldman’s saloon. He makes an uneasy deal to charge Denzel’s zune, then reappears at the end to open the lock on the bible, revealing that it’s in braille and D escapes to the Children of Men hope island with the entire book memorized. Waits is less pivotal here than in Seven Psychopaths, is mostly around to look cool.
In the mood for some horror, but this was barely horror, just a character piece about a religious nut set to churchy mope music. Jennifer Ehle has spinal problems, Maud is hired to take care of her. But Maud is judgy and has a dark past and probably isn’t supposed to be there, fired for attacking Ehle halfway through the movie then develops stomach pains, like a weak, voiceover-filled First Reformed. Maud is bad at socializing, has major masochistic tendencies, ends up walking on nails then returning to Ehle’s house and stabbing her with scissors before setting herself on fire. Ehle blameless as usual, Morfydd Clark (Love & Friendship) overcooked along with the rest of the thing.
Costa loves his very low-light digital cinematography (very cool, Lois Patiño-esque) with actors being extremely still, until he faces a challenge in the second half with a jittery Ventura – either the actor or his priest character is now afflicted with Parkinson’s. Everyone in this movie is desperate, all zombie-walking through spaces, only VV has any passion left. Her confrontation with Ventura is intense, and her big backstory monologue takes place on the toilet.
Halfway through Jeannette, little Lise aged-up to older Jeanne Voisin, and now due to a casting snafu, she’s aged back down to Lise for the battles and trial. It’s Jeannette Redux for the battles – all conversations in the desert, Joan “sings” a song in voiceover, her horse dances to a drumbeat then all the horsemen dance around her in a choreographed pattern. Mostly notable here is Lord de Rais who looks 18 with lion-hair.
Why does the king (Rohmer actor Fabrice Luchini), who everyone respects, act like such a sleazy scumlord and wear a juicer-hat?
The start of the trial is all talk, but livened up by the actors, especially church master Nic l’Oiseleur (below, right), a Quinquin-caliber performer. The church is an infinitely more gaudy setting than the Passion or the Bresson, and all the non-Joan actors are more interesting than those in the other films – shot mostly in close-up but it’s a large echoey room so they’re all shouting. It’s maybe a more eccentric movie than the first, and for the better… not a big fan of the vocal songs, but the instrumental music is just great.
“Don’t they know evil when they see it?”
“We are used to it now.
Main guy is August Diehl (title star of The Young Karl Marx) and wife Fani is Valerie Pachner, whose The Ground Beneath My Feet premiered a few months earlier. Very happy to see Franz Rogowski as a fellow prisoner in the second half – that guy is in both of my favorite movies of 2019.
Bilge Ebiri in Vulture:
You won’t find the delirious, extended montages of Knight of Cups or the galactic scope of Tree of Life here. Instead, Franz winds up in a series of almost philosophical dialogues, with priests, bureaucrats, prisoners, neighbors. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to call these loose monologues, since Franz remains mostly quiet throughout. But his very presence poses a question to these individuals about the problem of evil. “Which side are you on, and why?” he might as well be asking.
After Franz’s execution, the town seems to behave more tenderly towards the new widow. This is either my wishful thinking or Malick’s, since Bilge says of the real family: “the Jägerstätters were treated as outcasts and traitors by fellow Austrians well into the 1990s.”