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Movie Reviews: 5/15/2023 to 5/21/2023

Movies reviewed this week: Douglas Sirk – Hope as in Despair, L’immensità, Four Little Adults, It’s Only Life After All, Gloriavale, Adolfo, Egghead & Twinkie, The Passion of Joan of Arc, The External-internal Monologue of an Interdependent Insomniac, The Flesh of Another, The Station, How to Survive Your First Date, LOLA, and Time Traveling Through Time.

5/16/2023: Douglas Sirk – Hope as in Despair (2022): ***1/2

It’s not a biography, although I learned things about Sirk’s life. It’s about how Sirk influenced Rainer Werner Fassbinder and how they both influenced Todd Haynes, but nobody actually says that. There’s a moment when Haynes quotes Fassbinder discussing Sirk that felt like the axis around which all three masters of melodrama revolve. And then, for good measure, there’s footage of Sirk working with Fassbinder at the University of Television and Film Munich. (Possibly from these clips?) I had no idea.

The last visual moment of the film is a picture of Sirk holding hands with his wife, Hilde Jary. So I think it’s an exploration of connections. Hanna Schygulla, Fassbinder’s best lead actor, provides the voiceover for Hilde’s diaries, which are most of the narrative of the film.

Yet there’s also this immense emotional weight that shadows the entire thing: Sirk’s son by his first wife, who Sirk lost when his mother condemned Sirk for marrying a Jew. Young Klaus Sierck became a child actor in various Nazi propaganda movies, then died as a soldier on the Russian front. And now I know how those experiences are reflected in Sirk’s work.

In the end the director Roman Hüben is correct: Sirk is an enigma. Roman leaves the archives without sorting out all Sirk’s material; he doesn’t read the novels and poems Sirk wrote late in life. No answers, just the portrait of a man who — well, the movie opens with the right Fassbinder quote.

“Sirk has said: ‘cinema is blood, is tears, violence, hate, death, and love’. And Sirk has made films with blood, with tears, with violence, hate … Sirk has said: you can’t make films about things, you can only make films with things, with people, with light, with flowers, with mirrors, with blood … and Sirk has made the tenderest films I know, they are the films of someone who loves people and doesn’t despise them as we do.”

5/18/2023: L’immensità (2022): ****

Penelope Cruz is clearly the best mother ever: why didn’t we ever set the table like that? Sublime.

Really lovely small story about a mother and son, both repressed in different ways. The cinematography was sublime. There were easily half a dozen scenes that made me want to pause and study right there in the theater, and not the subjects you’d expect, either. The mothers searching for their kids, framed by the setting sun? Just a perfect bit of film.

I think the beauty of the movie undermined the contrast between classes a bit. It’s interesting that well-off Adri finds acceptance and young love with Sara, daughter of transient workers, but if you’re gonna photograph concrete tunnel segments so attractively it’s hard for us to remember that there’s supposed to be contrast there.

I can’t be mad, though. Such color, such sense of space.

5/19/2023: Four Little Adults (2023): ***1/2

It is awfully cheeky to put the line “Snufkin in drag” in the mouth of an actress who played Tove Jansson a few years ago. Finns! Nobody else in the theater laughed at that; sorry if I bugged anyone.

Anyhow, it’s a charming little movie about experimenting with polyamory with a few authentic scenes about how difficult it is and a somewhat optimistic outcome. I don’t know that I think that polycule is stable, because boy do all of them have problems, but fuck it: they’re happy in the moment and my heart was warmed.

Alma Pöysti is kind of a joy and I was pleased to realize she’s in Kaurismäki’s new movie.

5/19/2023: It’s Only Life After All (2023): ****1/2

There’s no such thing as an objective review anyhow, but I saw this at SIFF in a crowd of hundreds of other people who were primed to adore it by years of fandom, and that puts me well in the realm of subjective. That’s apropos, though, because Emily and Amy wear their hearts where they belong: on their sleeves.

As it turns out, Amy’s both an incessant documenter — she used to carry a video camera with her everywhere — and a bit of a packrat. When Alexandria Bombach throws us back into the past, she’s got a wealth of material to work with. Sometimes that’s cassette tapes from high school era rehearsal sessions (they had their harmonies and voices even then); sometimes it’s candid footage of Emily at the peak of alcoholism, looking sullen and unready to play at the side of the stage.

Which Emily is fine with sharing. Both of them are fearless; both of them believe that transparency of the heart is critical to their relationship with each other and with their fans. With, I should say, their community. Amy’s willing to talk about her jealousy of Emily’s talent. Emily’s willing to talk about how she leans on Ray for her drive. They are who they are, and if sharing that helps people, they want to share.

It’s a documentary about two famous musicians, so it’s going to center them, but I also found it remarkable how much they managed to make their story about others. At times it’s about homophobia, and in those moments they talk about how they were hurt but also how others were. At times it’s about their personal growth, and hearing Amy discuss how much she’s learned from trans youth was humbling. So it’s not just a movie about how they’re work helping others; it’s about how everyone helps everyone.

And that’s the answer to the question Amy asks early on: “what’s this documentary about?” It’s about the great web of relationships that ground us in the world, with one extraordinary relationship at the center. “We’ve been playing together for forty years.” It shows; and how lucky we are that they wound up in the same place at the same time so young.

5/20/2023: Gloriavale (2022): ***

There were these two moments. Early on, one of the legal team is talking about how if they can just disrupt the abusive people in charge of the Gloriavale cult, things will be better and people will be free to leave. Later, the documentary touches briefly on how the community’s founder, Hopeful Christian, was arrested for sexual abuse. Nobody seems to notice that his year-long absence didn’t change a thing. The belief structures are the problem, not the specific people in charge.

Treating this as a legal documentary was probably an error. There’s value in knowing what’s going on in Gloriavale. But without tackling the internal dynamics that make people stay in a cult like that, and without delving into the patterns of indoctrination that create the emotional prison, it’s a wasted opportunity. I wish the filmmakers had talked to some cult experts.

The Ready family makes this worth watching by themselves, though. Sharon, John, and Virginia Courage are amazingly strong individuals.

5/20/2023: Adolfo (2023): ****

I am a little more fond of this movie than is rational. I love the genre; I love the idea of two mismatched people meeting and spending a night in exploration. I love the aesthetic of Mexico City here, full of cool blues and whites and sparkling bubbles. I love Rocío de la Mañana, who is electrically sad. I love that it’s short.

I love most of all that the sadness and melancholy is grounded in family. I think usually these movies are focused on our two strangers, but Adolfo is centered on coming to terms with the dead.

5/20/2023: Egghead & Twinkie (2023): ***1/2

The key to teen comedies is usually whether or not the kids get to be imperfect. Egghead & Twinkie therefore works. Sabrina Jie-A-Fa walks the line between self-centered and sympathic quite well.

There are a lot of flavors of relationship failures in here, the more I think about it. Nicely nuanced.

The animation is of course a la Scott Pilgrim but I think the rationale works to take it beyond homage. Trust me that it works out in the end.

5/20/2023: The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928): *****

What’s to say? You know it’s a masterpiece, I know it’s a masterpiece. I could probably spend another few hours watching those tense angled close ups of Maria Falconetti and of the toads and vultures who put Joan on trial.

Boofest 2023: connected to Vision Quest by visions and quests, of course.

5/20/2023: The External-internal Monologue of an Interdependent Insomniac (2023)

Really quite snappy and self-aware. If it’s also self-indulgent, well, that’s the prerogative of youth.

5/20/2023: The Flesh of Another (2022)

A little bit of a patchwork overload of visual style, but the individual patches were excellent. Also pretty good tongue in, uh, cheek humor.

5/20/2023: The Station (none)

Striking black and white cinematography, maybe compromised a bit by the color in the flashback sequence. But keep refining that sense of contrast, it was really good.

5/20/2023: How to Survive Your First Date (none)

Nice sense of deadpan dread.

5/21/2023: LOLA (2022): ***1/2

It’s a found footage film and it has alllll the found footage problems. That’s unfortunate. But the concept is great and there are easily half a dozen moments when it elevates into the sublime and you feel like you’re watching magic footage from a small chunk of time that’s lost forever.

And man, the idea of two isolated women suddenly getting a window into a future where they can actually be people? Powerful opening statement, and Andrew Legge has the delicacy to let us figure that out on our own.

5/21/2023: Time Traveling Through Time (2022): ***1/2

Clever and funny. I expected the worst when it was introduced as an homage to La Jetèe but nope, that worked quite well.

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