Vox Lux (2019)

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No one was more excited for this than me. I love Childhood of a Leader, I have been waiting for this film in the UK for months and months, and I had a dream last year — before I even knew what it was about — that I saw it and it blew my mind.

It is good, and a lot of Corbet’s strengths are on imperious show again: stifling dread, ghastly images, a cinematically triumphant conclusion. I think the performances are all pretty well nailed, and Scott Walker’s score, while less rampant than his previous one, is pivotal again to those signature simmering moods and spikes of anxiety. Various scenes and shots are guaranteed to stick with you and the overall piece left me and Ruth with plenty to talk about.

Frustratingly we agreed that the film’s message overextends its grasp, its themes hurried ineffectively across the narrative or developed at length into a position of uncomfortable cynisism. The script of Childhood did tend to flap a bit in the first third, but here it blusters and tarries through most of the second half, creating dull distance from the core ideas and emotions, which deserved tighter, probably less pompous elaboration.

I enjoyed Corbet’s debut more on second viewing and I will give this one another try for sure. Much to marvel at but I hope that next time the film seems less like its trying to take those moments back from me.

6

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Léon Morin, Prêtre (1961)

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Riva is a luminous and emotionally projective screen presence and Belmondo’s assured but elusive charm makes the most of a fantastic script, surely one of cinema’s most poetically attractive cases for Christianity. The drifting subplots are comfortably inconclusive: they feed delicately into Barny’s political and spiritual quandaries and sketch diaristic details from her life in a way that carries the passage of time on small (her own life) and middling (the town’s experience of wartime) scales. The film’s style is poised between New Wave and neorealism, with seamless transitions between earthy social observations and spare but still potently poignant dialogue. The latter inheres in that elegant Christian apologism which I labelled attractive rather than compelling; it’s probably to the film’s detriment that it leaves me with few big conclusions despite its linear, almost inevitable structure. Perhaps, like Barny, it is Morin and his troubled wisdom to which I am largely drawn, rather than simply the faith he represents (he ultimately comes over like a pious Mr Bergstrom). But the narrative’s development into tragic romance still feels genuine and authentically if quietly contrarian, in a way that I am coming to expect from Melville. His development from Les Enfants Terribles through Bob Le Flambeur to this is clear and steep.

8

Husbands (1970)

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doubtless you, like i, were an earnest young man when you were at school. remember those kids who wouldn’t shut up or leave other people alone, who bonded together over the common cause of annoying anyone trying to get on with something? well now they are rich alcoholics with loud new york accents and long-suffering families, they are tipping into mid-life crises and their persistent insufferability has been scrambled and amped off the charts by the passing of one of their number. they are going on a three-day bender of self (non)-discovery for which, despite your hitherto successful efforts to avoid them for the rest of your life, you are their designated driver.

sometimes you can undergo an experience you’d normally enjoy, or at least you’d find something about it to enjoy, but your mood on the day spoils the fun. Husbands is sharp, innovative filmmaking, but you can’t have that without these twats ruining your mood too.

only found myself at the end after having been practising my spanish using the compulsory subtitles on the crappy stream. my ongoing interest in cassavetes grows more masochistic with every attempt.

4

The Sisters Brothers (2019)

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The Sisters Brothers is the best western I have seen in years, a welcome alternative to the procession of bitter and atmospheric pieces that have followed in Andrew Dominik’s wake since the mid 00s.

This is an America not simply wallowing in appalling cro-magnon violence and old testament retribution; its characters find their society at a hopeful juncture, with optimism sprouting in fertile Californian riverbeds, Thoreauvian self-sustainability, and the egalitarian scientific utopia of bounty target Herman Kermit Warm, a chemist pursued down the west coast by the titular hitmen. It’s a film that can be carefully brutal when it needs to be, and its observations of the piratical hedonism of Joaquin Phoenix’s Charlie Sisters and his seedy milieu are grim, but it’s also much less emotionally exploitative and simplistic than it could have been in less capable hands than Jacques Audiard’s.

The film’s daliances with these familiar genre themes of social transition (admittedly toward hastily sketched, politically unappetising possible futures) give way quietly as it finds its way home to the searching heart of John C Reilly’s Eli, the truest narrative through-line amid four capably balanced players. Riz Ahmed’s Warm is twinklingly mysterious and a contemplative Jake Gyllenhaal explores conflicted loyalties with only an occasionally silly accent. Phoenix’s now overfamiliar snarled performance earns valuable breathing space with a wider vocabulary and clearer delivery this time around.

The film’s patient and understated progress leaves it short of memorable moments, and Alexandre Desplat’s score is often obtrusive and emotionally confusing, but all told this is a worthwhile and refreshingly honest return to narrative and character for the western genre in 2019. Plus you get to see an adult John C Reilly brush his teeth for the first time. It’s like an inquisitive chimp picking through jungle flotsam.

7

‘Khrustalyov, My Car!’ (1998)

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Though I still can’t call myself a proper Aleksei German fan, and though I no longer feel compelled to return to Hard To Be A God, KMC clatters and dodges its way along with enough momentum and panache that I now appreciate his style a lot more. Discombobulatory barrage that it is, it’s still a more refined and energetically effective work than the late director’s posthumous swansong.

That rampant, swirling style is again draped round a flawed but empathetic protagonist: this time an embattled holy fool, a high ranking doctor treated first hand to a dantesque ride through Stalin’s Doctors’ Plot. Resembling Kevin Spacey playing Tom Hardy playing Charles Bronson, General Klensky’s political and physical agency amid his chaotic household and more chaotic hospital is revoked and then restored via winding twists of fortune, lending KMC a more overtly comedic sentiment than HTBAG. The darkness and transitional political absurdism of that humour evokes a more Gilliamesque Ashes And Diamonds.

The action proceeds in a familiarly oblique way, with narrative, scene structure, and even camera movement dictated largely by the reasonless foreground noise of fragmented secondary characters and object mess. Again I found this an overload of information that overwhelmed the direction’s kinetic finesse and the thick, chiaroscuro cinematography, to the point of droopy eyelids for much of the first half. But as the narrative stretches out (excepting some crass indulgence in sexual torture) I settled into the film’s weird rhythms.

Superior to its successor but I’ll still take The Death Of Stalinfirst any day on its laughs and smarts, and even its auterism.

6

You Were Never Really Here (2018)

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Revising my opinion up after a second look. All that holds this back from next-level lasting superiority is the way it gets stretched out as Joe enters the final psychodramatic castle, since this flattens some of the luxuriously jagged editing that marks the first half out as textbook Ramsay. As it stands this is a full realisation of the style she stepped towards with We Need To Talk About Kevin. Between these two and the preferred early films I think she might actually be getting better and better — hopefully we get to see more from her soon.

8

The Assassin (2015)

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Second time I’ve failed to finish this. Yeah it’s beautiful but in the sort of way that surely would actually have worked better as a series of stills, telling the same story through juxtaposition or written narrative. None of the movement here is interesting or dynamic enough to merit following (reminding me of generic predecessor Hara-Kiri). Films really fail when they feel like a waste of the medium’s peculiar potentials.

3