Posts Tagged ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’


Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s study of the emotional lives of men is both a both an astute meditation and a cinematic spectacle. In its sweeping portrayal of a police procedural in the Turkish steppes, the film brings to mind the road trips of Abbas Kiarostami and the ecstatic natural world of Tarkovsky. Ceylan’s towering poetic achievement eloquently tackles the fascinating existential question: How do we live in a world where beauty and horror co-exist?


Kevin Macdonald gives Bob Marley well deserved biographical treatment in this superb and emotionally engaging documentary. Marley narrates Marley’s life story, while looking intelligently at his impact on a socio-political level. The film questions Marley’s role as a husband and a father, while examining his desire to help the public at large. The film is particularly keen in its take on Marley’s mixed race heritage, helping us to understand his broad appeal, which transcends race to offer a redemptive quality and a profound sense of joy.


It is often assumed that Britain is too small to accommodate for the road movie genre. Not so, for up and coming director Ben Wheatley, who’s Sightseers traverses the north of England from the Tram Museum in Crich to the Ribblehead Viaduct. The story, which begins as a mere caravanning holiday, ends up in a bloody massacre to rival True Romance; the results are as hilarious as they are sickening. As well as great performances and cinematography, the soundtrack is the best of the year, with artists ranging from Frankie Goes To Hollywood to Popul Vuh.


In spite of its melancholic exterior, Le Havre was the most heartwarming film of 2012. Picking up the story of Marcel Marx from director Aki Kaurismäki’s 1992 film La Vie de Bohème, the film sees the ex-bohemian turned shoe shiner help a young African boy immigrate illegally to London. Despite being set in France, the film exudes Kaurismäki’s authentic Finnish style, with immaculate set decoration, high contrast lighting and perfectly timed ironic humor.


While not necessarily the most subtle film of the year, Holy Motors was the most original piece of work. Recalling the most hilarious of Luis Buñuel’s features, Holy Motors is riotous surrealist fun. Denis Lavant’s performance is an extraordinary feat of physical acting, showcasing his vast emotional range. Kylie Minogue and Eva Mendes feature in radically unusual cameos, while the director himself appears at the beginning, to usher in his wild cinematic dream.


Tackling screen violence with the upmost craft, Gareth Evans’ The Raid was a brutal showcase of the Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat. With expert martial artists Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian as the opposing forces of good and evil, Evans choreographs his camera with a poetic, yet ultraviolent eye. Through pure physicality The Raid transcends the action genre and digs sincerely into the human impulse for discipline and mastery, be it violent or otherwise.


Paul Thomas Anderson’s provocative sixth feature included the finest performances from not one but two of Hollywood’s best actors in 2012. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman portrayed each other’s ying and yang, as the PTSD sufferer Freddie Quell (Phoenix) and cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman). As well as the fine performances The Master was perhaps the greatest technical achievement of the year’s art-house releases, with Anderson shooting the film on 65mm film, for stunning projection on 70mm.


One of the most striking debut features out on general release in 2012 was Martha Marcy May Marlene by Sean Durkin. Durkin honed his filmmaking skills with his company Borderline Films, where he produced features for his colleagues and directed shorts and music videos. His experience paid off, as Martha Marcy May Marlene exhibits a skillful handling of dual narratives and a distinct shooting style, making superb use of natural light. The film also features a beguiling and career defining lead performance by Elizabeth Olsen.


The low budget Beasts of the Southern Wild was perhaps not the most perfectly formed film of 2012, but it had a rough edged mystical quality that hints at greatness. The film’s rough edge almost recalls Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: Wrath of God, as a Delta river community attempt to survive a colossal storm. Quvenzhané Wallis stars as six-year-old Hushpuppy, the young girl at the center of the drama, with an utterly sensational performance that spans reality and fantasy.


With so called ‘left-field choice’ Sam Mendes at the helm, Skyfall became the best James Bond film in decades. The film looked to Britain to establish high-stakes on Bond’s home turf, while also allowing for stunning action sequences (particularly in the London underground and Scottish highlands.) Mendes’ decision to cast the acclaimed Javier Bardem as the villain gave Craig’s bond a heavyweight opponent with which to spar. Lensed by industry leading cinematographer Roger Deakins, the film is a rounded, politically conscious and artful piece of popular entertainment.

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Imbued with a compelling central performance, a well judged approach to camera direction and the haunting folk songs of Jackson C. Frank, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a desolate film that resonates with a profound sense of mood. Debut feature director Sean Durkin uses dual narratives to tell the tale of Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), an impressionable young woman who joins a commune, only to escape into her sister’s care having experienced something terrible. What will happen when she returns to normality is entirely unpredictable.

Seemingly beginning the film at the end of the story (when Martha leaves the commune), writer/director Durkin could have fallen into the trap of having a story with no momentum, but he deceptively uses this end point as a starting point for a new leg of the story, while narrating in flash back the events in the commune. As the present narrative develops we become more and more engaged in the flashbacks, creating a dual level of interest.

Constantly keeping the audience in suspense of two narratives Durkin allows Elizabeth Olsen to perform an extremely rounded and complex portrait of her character. Upon arriving at the commune Martha is convincing portrayed as a lively, yet impressionable young woman. The leader of the communal group, Patrick (John Hawkes) convinces her that those in her past were responsible for causing her emotional harm. Unknowing to her Patrick is actually drawing her into a downward spiral which causes greater damage than she can imagine.

Durkin transitions from scenes of the past and present by subtly intercutting the narrative as if sliding in and out of a dream. He exhibits a superb control over pacing for each scene and his use of slow dolly shots and long lens camera work creates a detachment from the ordinary world and its conventions. The camera also takes on a significantly psychological influence on the story as Martha finds herself confused between what she may have dreamed and what may have happened at the commune. This happens as her influence on her sister’s life becomes increasingly burdensome.

Durkin’s choice of music gives the film one final kick and this manages to ingrain the film deeply in the audience’s memory and emotions. Durkin had John Hawkes learn Marcy’s Song by near-mythic folk artist Jackson C. Frank for a scene that becomes the centre point of Martha and Patrick’s relationship. Hawkes makes this song entirely his own and the song feels as if it were written specifically for the movie (only several decades early). It is the perfect compliment to the story, performances and overall filmic style.

Martha Marcy May Marlene feels like a film where all the elements fit correctly. This is down to Durkin’s superb directing skills which were honed making short films and music videos, while producing low budget features. It would be entirely unfair to say that this film feels like a result of luck – Durkin and his company Borderline Films have established themselves with an impressive background of work and Martha Marcy May Marlene feels like a culmination of this so far. What they produce next will no doubt be hotly anticipated, as will Elizabeth Olson’s next acting move. In years to come this film deserves to become a true classic of the American independent cinema.

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