Posts Tagged ‘Post Tenebras Lux’

1) THE GREAT BEAUTY (DIR. PAULO SORRENTINO, ITALY)

rsz_18nejA Federico Fellini film for the Bunga Bunga generation, Sorrentino returns to form with perhaps his greatest film yet. Toni Servillo plays an ageing playboy journalist who begins to tire of the endless parties and excess in his beloved Rome. The film mixes high art and low trash to an exhilarating degree, swooping from sober existentialism to scandalous hedonism at the directors whim. While the parties are filmed with an inventive, restless vigour, it’s Servillo’s hangdog lead that lingers in the memory.

2) NEBRASKA (DIR. ALEXANDER PAYNE, USA)

rsz_nebraska3This austere, melancholic road movie follows Woody, an alcoholic pensioner and his put upon son as they travel across the American highways to cash in a bogus junk mail prize for 1 million dollars. It’s a superbly concise and effective set up to explore the American dream and the way it lures in its everyday victims with visions of wild riches. Shot in beautiful black and white, director Payne makes great use of both the endless plains and the weary faces. It would be a bleak watch if it didn’t contain a redeeming mix of wry and slapstick humour.

3) POST TENEBRAS LUX (DIR. CARLOS REYGADAS, MEXICO)

This is Mexican maverick Carlos Reygadas going for broke here. Wildly adventurous, visually inventive and probably quite infuriating for large swathes of the audience, I loved every beguiling second of it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I could tell you what it’s about. The story, of which there is little, follows a privileged Mexican family living on the outskirts of an impoverished and remote rural town. Oppressed by a tyrannical father, the film is possibly a semi-autobiographical account of Reygadas’ own life. Surreal highlights include a glowing animated devil figure and steamy sauna scenes.

4) FRANCES HA (DIR. NOAH BAUMBACH, USA)

A delightful and charming rites of passage comedy showcasing Greta Garwig’s inimitable charisma. She plays a naive and childlike New Yorker struggling to hold onto her dreams of being a dancer. Ditched by her best friend and unwilling to commit to a romantic relationship, Frances is forced to seek out on her own. As a privileged and somewhat spoilt protagonist, the film would fall apart if it wasn’t for Frances’ infectious goofiness and will to succeed. Baumbach again succeeds at making us care about characters who aren’t always perfect human beings.

5) HORS SATAN (DIR. BRUNO DUMONT, FRANCE)

Imagine a more mystical Michael Haneke and you might be halfway towards the films of Bruno Dumont. This strange, unsettling film follows ‘The Guy’, a mystical, messianic figure, and ‘The Girl’, a local gothic girl who together roam the windswept coastline of Northern France. ‘The Guy’ has the power to kill and the power to heal, with a strange ability to save people by having sex with them. An absurd idea on paper, but Dumont makes it work. A beguiling mix of realism and surrealism, Dumont orchestrates both the visual and aural brutality of the desolate landscape to startling effect.

6) LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (DIR. HIROKAZU KOREEDA, JAPAN)

Carrying on from his previous film I Wish, director Koreeda concocts another incisive and moving portrait of modern Japanese families. Ryota is a workaholic in the city who has little time for his son Keita, and when Ryota learns that Keita might be the result of a mix up at birth, he has to decide whether blood ties or love ties matter the most to him. The story contrasts Ryota’s uptight, glossy family with their biological son Ryusei’s scatty family living in the country to great effect. A moving and humane exploration of what it means to be a parent.

7) THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (DIR. DEREK CIANFRANCE, USA)

A film which divided critics and audiences alike, Cianfrance’s ‘difficult second album’ is an ambitious, sprawling crime drama that motors through three generations. Ryan Gosling’s turn as a speedy heist merchant steals the show in the opening act, yet it’s Bradley Cooper’s angsty performance that lends weight to the whole film. The final section is a little weak but overall the film is a joy to watch. Cianfrance combines stylish retro thrills with an inventive structure and meaty drama.

8) TO THE WONDER (DIR. TERRENCE MALICK, USA)

As a self confessed Malick-nerd this arrives at a surprisingly lowly position, and I would suggest it is his weakest film in his ouevre so far. The film is a frustrating, challenging piece of work with some enigmatic, introspective performances…and yet there is something niggling away, burrowing beneath your skin as you watch it. A muted Ben Affleck plays a desolate man torn between Olga Kurylenko, a vivacious Parisian, and Rachel McAdams, a sweet local. The themes and drama are less pronounced that in his previous films and that is often infuriating, yet if I was to pick one of these films to have staying power then it might just be this one.

9) BULLHEAD (DIR. MICHAEL R. ROSKAM, BELGIUM)

This was a criminally under-seen thriller that came out earlier in the year. Matthias Schoenaerts, a hulking presence, plays a simmering Cattle farmer in rural Belgium who helps illegally inject steroids into the animals. When a new business venture with foreign investors goes suitably awry, Schoenaerts has to fight to save the business and his own life. Coming on the heels of moody, character driven French thrillers like A Prophet and A Beat That My Heart Skipped, newcomer Roskam delivers a punchy crime drama like Scorsese used to make in his heyday.

10) SPRING BREAKERS (DIR. HARMONY KORINE, USA)

Harmony Korine now seems like the Peter Pan of the US underground cinema, constantly ferreting away trying to find the latest movements in youth culture. With Spring Breakers he has hit upon the Girls Gone Wild franchise and turned it into something surreal and often beautiful. In a master stroke of casting he nabbed a couple of Disney starlets for the leads, giving the film both considerable marketable clout and blurring the lines between reality and fiction. The lean story is essentially a bunch of bollocks; four teenagers go on a Cancun-style orgy of excess and violence. It is Korine’s own warped, poetic take on proceedings that make it something special.

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When Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas’ new film premiered at Cannes last year, it was apparently greeted with a chorus of boos. His previous films, Japon, Battle in Heaven and Silent Light had found favour with critics and he was often mentioned alongside film makers such as Andrei Tarkovsky and Terrence Malick. However, for many critics Reygadas had taken his distinctive brand of art cinema to new esoteric heights. He recently responded in a hostile and defensive manner, labelling critics (most likely the particular ones at Cannes) as hooligans. So with all the furore surrounding it, how does the actual film shape up?

Post Tenebras Lux has an unusual, somewhat sprawling narrative. While the central pull of the film revolves around a bourgeois Mexican family living in a rural community, the narrative flickers from one abstract setting to the next. In the opening scene we see the young daughter of the family wandering through a field of cows, full of apocalyptic threat. In the next scene a silent house is trespassed by a glowing, animated devil-like figure, observing the inhabitants in an eerie fashion. By this point the audience has realised they need to alter their perceptions of what they think is going to happen from scene to scene, and just follow where Reygadas takes us.

The family is made up of Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro) and Natalia (Nathalia Acevedo), a married couple, and their two young children. They have a strange relationship with their local community, an impoverished, mountainous place populated by misfits and those stricken of luck. As a wealthy and superficially prosperous unit, they are at odds with the earthy residents, yet make the odd visit into the shady local bar, or the crude support group shack they have set up. Domestically, things are not at all harmonious; Juan is brash and demanding, possessing a violent restlessness that manifests itself in internet pornography and lashing out at the family dogs. Natalia struggles to keep the family together, and has her own wants and desires to nurture. Their relationship is at breaking point.

The film is an aesthetic marvel. In his previous films Reygadas announced himself as a master of landscapes and faces, evoking the otherworldly images found in Tarkovsky’s work. This time Reygadas has chosen to shoot the film in a way that leaves the edges of the frame with a soft edge, as if the audience is looking through beer goggles. It’s a strange technique but it works, giving the visuals a woozy feeling. The sound design also plays a strong part, with both the crackle and boom of the frequent thunder storms and the rustle of the reeds in the nearby river. Nature has played a vital role in Reygadas’ work, mirroring the turmoil of the protagonists, and here it is no different.

Post Tenebras Lux is Reygadas’ most challenging film yet, but one I enjoyed for it’s distinct exoticism and unpredictability. His previous films had a strong moral foundation which has been clouded somewhat here in the abstract narrative, but there is still a strong hint of redemption as a possible theme. As well as the striking visuals, the film possesses an unusual boldness to experiment and  surprise the audience. Many will find the elliptical, wayward plotting infuriating, but I loved the way Reygadas changed tack from scene to scene, each new image a visual delight with a different tension. Reygadas remains one of the most exciting directors working today.

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