image Screening Log: February 2016

Rio Corgo (Kosa/da Costa, 2016, 8.7/10)
A charming, droll and enchantingly beautiful meditation on aging and loneliness, set in the magnificent vistas of rural Portugal. This is a completely immersive visual and emotional experience.

Valderama (Amini, 2016, 5.8/10)
The dramatic beats of this film — about a young boy who’s forced to leave his small town in the south of Iran to roam the streets of Tehran — are predictable but the director’s roots in documentary filmmaking lend the film urgency and emotional authenticity.

A Dragon Arrives! (Haghighi, 2016, 8.2/10)
Colourful, playful, powerful and irresistibly engaging, this is Iranian genre cinema at its best.

Curumim (Prado, 2016, 7.4/10)
A ferocious documentary about Indonesia’s archaic and unbending judicial position on drug offenses. Curumim humanizes smugglers on death row with diligent reflection, not patronizing or unearned sympathy.

Kate Plays Christine (Greene, 2016, 8.7/10)
Stranger than fiction. Greene’s follow-up to Actress, is everything that biopics aren’t but should be. A staged (or is it? How much of it?) documentary about an actress preparing to play the role of Christine Chubbuck, Kate Plays Christine is a fascinating, haunting study of the nature of performance, with a sensational, star-making turn from Kate Lyn Sheil.

A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery (Diaz, 2016, 2.9/10)
The epitome of faux-arthouse mediocrity. The Filipino director’s film is longer than 8 hours, a fact in which he clearly takes masturbatory pleasure, though there is no narrative or formal justification for this excruciatingly tedious, charmless and repetitious study of the Philippines’s history.

The Commune (Vinterberg, 2016, 4.5/10)
A few moments of comic brilliance aside, this is rather dull, incomprehensible, and unjustifiably tame.

Zero Days (Gibney, 2016, 6.4/10)
Explosive and vital as a piece of journalism but so streamlined and formally uninspired that its notion of “edgy” is matrices made of digits running on the screen when characters discuss computer programming.

Tales of Two Who Dreamt (Bussman/Pereda, 2016, 6.6)
Conceived as two separate films — one a fictional film about the Roma community in Toronto, another a documentary about the filming of the fictional film — and later seamlessly cut into one, this is a vibrant and moving experimental film.

Genius (Grandage, 2016, 3.0/10) (review)
“In the end, only Colin Firth escapes this mess with any measure of dignity, with a poised performance that, while similar to many of his previous works, is at least significantly superior to everything going on around him.”

Soy Nero (Pitts, 2016, 6.1/10) (review)
Soy Nero tells a compelling and politically charged story and, like Pitts’s previous film, The Hunter, is visually stunning, but suffers from inconsistent pacing and blunt exposition of its themes.”

Shelley (Abbasi, 2016, 6.0/10)
Horror cliches about motherhood and pregnancy are aplenty in Ali Abbasi’s feature film debut, but this is a nevertheless frightening experience. Cosmina Stratan gives a terrific performance as the surrogate mother whose unborn baby is the source of the film’s evil.

Crosscurrent (Yang, 2016, N/A)
I walked out of this film at Berlin after 75 minutes. It’s an absolutely gorgeous film, but its deep roots in Chinese folklore are alienating. Combined with the incredibly slow pace of the film, it was an experience that was just not for me.

Alone in Berlin (Pérez, 2016, 2.8/10) (review)
“Predictable, visually flat and emotionally overcooked, Alone in Berlin is a misfire on every level and an injustice to Fallada’s towering text.”

Death in Sarajevo (Tanović, 2016, 5.3/10)
Tanović’s film is a satirical comedy about a dysfunctional hotel in the titular city that comes to resmeble Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole. The problem is that this conceit is foreseeable within the first ten minutes of the film. From then on, burdened by so many political metaphors and such historical didacticism, the comedy can hardly breathe.

Lantouri (Dormishian, 2016, 6.1/10)
Dormishian’s latest film, about a gang of petty criminals whose shenanigans turn increasingly violent, pushes the formal limits of contemporary Iranian cinema with its hyperstylized structure and rapid editing. This is a sharply critical film but it’s almost viciously confrontational.

Being 17 (Téchiné, 2016, 7.8) (review)
Being 17 deals with themes that are familiar to long-time observers of Téchiné’s work, as well as those of his co-writer, Céline Sciamma: the confusion and volatility of adolescence, and the evolution and fluidity of sexuality.”

24 Weeks (Berrached, 2016, 6.6)
Berrached’s overzealous direction of this tough drama about a couple’s struggle with abortion goes too hard for the emotions but it’s incredibly effective. Julia Jentsch’s performance is quite powerful.

Letters From War (Ferreira, 2016, 4.8/10)
Gorgeous photography aside, this is Gomes-lite at best. Like the second of Tabu, with a lot more bloodshed and a lot less charm.

L’Avenir (Hansen-Løve, 2016, 8.3/10) (review)
“Huppert delivers a masterwork of characterization, balancing with great tactility Nathalie’s melancholy concession to her life slipping through her fingers, with the gradual resurgence of joyous liberation. This is a relaxed, subtle performance where the most powerful effect is found in the smallest gestures.”

Fire at Sea (Rosi, 2016, 9.0/10) (review)
Fire at Sea is the rare documentary that tackles an important and relevant issue, conveying its urgency without knee-jerk reactions or a call to arms. Through his lyrical observational study, Rosi has created a transfixing experience that is at once humane, provocative and challenging.”

Boris without Béatrice (Côté, 2016, 3.9/10)
A tedious, long-winded, superficial and half-baked lesson to teach a man to keep it in his pants.

Midnight Special (Nichols, 2016, 7.5/10) (review)
“As in his previous features, Nichols proves his deft hand at delivering an intense thriller, constructing set pieces that never fail to take the audience by surprise. The gravity of a cathartic spiritual experience is conveyed with such earnest conviction that, even despite the absence of profundity or transcendence in the film’s take on religious belief, overwhelms the audience with its sheer force.”

Hedi (Ben Attia, 2016, 7.4/10) (review)
“Mastoura plays Hedi with stoic detachment, an approach to the character that allows the audience to project onto him a whole range of emotions that Hedi cannot express. As the film progresses, and different facets of the oppressive environment and communal culture in which he lives are revealed, the character, and Mastoura’s performance, become increasingly more identifiable.”

Starless Dreams (Oskouei, 2016, 7.8/10)
With a series of incisive interviews and with his precisely stylized rendering of this closed environment, Oskouei delivers a compassionate and heartfelt picture that is both critical and hopeful. Starless Dreams is confrontational but intimate; it simultaneously humanizes its subjects but asks difficult questions from a society that has fostered the circumstances for their adversities.

The Fifth Season (Pitts, 1997, 5.7)
Pitts’s debut feature is heavily influenced by the simplicity and social concerns of the Iranian New Wave. Unfortunately, it borrows certain negative aspects of pre-revolutionary cinema as well, such as its patronizing, somewhat condescending treatment of the majority of its rural characters.

Modest Reception (Haghighi, 2012, 6.3/10)
Haghighi’s confident filmmaking anchors a challenging story with the help of two strong performances that channel his strange vision. In the end, the narrative remains too muddled and impenetrable to allow the audience to fully connect with the film, but it’s a mark of progression for a filmmaker whose genre exercises would bear fruit in A Dragon Arrives! a few years down the line.

How Heavy This Hammer (Radwanski, 2016, 6.5/10)
A formal and thematic companion piece of sorts to the director’s first film, Tower, and yet, a work of much deeper personal and emotional understanding. A profoundly melancholy film about loneliness in union.

Hail, Caesar! (Coen/Coen, 2016, 6.6/10)
As is usually the case with the films of Coen Brothers, Hail, Caesar! demands another screening to be better understood. The first impression is that this is a playful, loving ode to the studio era from filmmakers who are both politically intelligent and artistically knowledgeable about film history. Alden Ehrenreich is a revelation.

Men at Work (Haghighi, 2006, 6.1/10)
Although Haghighi strongly opposes subtextual readings of his films, preferring to just consider them playful, it’s hard to escape the notion that Men at Work — about a group of friends who find a rock rooted in the ground on the side of a road and struggle to move the rock — is a meta-commentary on Iranian history and escaping from tradition. Nevertheless, the film suffers from its monotonous structure, a feature that evolved out of Haghighi’s future films.

The Thing (Carpenter, 1982, 8.0/10)
Measured and deliberate, yet relentlessly entertaining, Carpenter’s film perfectly executes the introduction of monsters into the story without stripping away their element of mystery.

Total: 31 films

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