Sunday, February 14, 2016

Andrew Haigh's new film "45 Years", Alê Abreu's "Boy and the World", Robert Eggers' "The Witch" & Miguel Gomes' "The Arabian Nights Trilogy" at SIFF Cinema: Feb 12 - 25 | Corneliu Porumboiu's "The Treasure" at Grand Illusion Cinema: Feb 12 - 18

Mid-February sees an abundance of quality cinema this week and next at SIFF Cinema and The Grand Illusion. Highlighted in David Filipi's year-end overview for Film Comment, "From the Artisanal to the Industrial: The Year in Animation", Alê Abreu's award-winning, dialog free, ornately musical sensory experience, "Boy and the World" had it's beginnings in a documentary about the formation of South America and instead became one boy's adventure through Latin America's social strata. A journey described in IndieWire's "Meet the Director Behind the Year's Most Extraordinary Animated Indie" from peasant and agrarian cultures, to industrial labor exploitation and colonialism to fascistic nation-building to advanced consumerism and class struggle, culminating in grassroots uprising and reformation, "Immersed in Movies: Alê Abreu Talks 'Boy and the World'". Concurrently at SIFF, a cinematic celebration of dark forces in league with the devil, the Witches Brew series launches this week's release of Robert Eggers tale of a frightful unraveling as, "A Family’s Contract with God is Tested" in the New England wilderness. "The Witch" is his meticulously constructed addition to the Puritan-horror mantle, framed by America’s long history of frontier insanity and legacy of religious zealotry and hypocrisy, "Serving Up Supernatural Dread, 17th-Century Style". Other highlights from the series include, Ken Russell's transgressive cult classic spin on Cardinal Richelieu's purging of secessionist and 17th-century priest Urbain Grandier and his cult of "The Devils" during the events of the so-called Loudun Possessions. The series also features Michael Reeves eliciting one of Vincent Price’s most sinister performances in "Witchfinder General" and Roman Polanski's slow-build horror as it follows a young couple played to perfection by Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, as they are inducted into a cult genesis of a deity from the underworld and "Rosemary's Baby".

The post-millennial explosion issuing from the Romanian New Wave that produced the award winning run of "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", "12:08 East of Bucharest", "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" and "Police, Adjective" as documented in Dominique Nasta’s, "Contemporary Romanian Cinema: The History of an Unexpected Miracle". All that much more striking for it being born from the conditions of the most overtly and consistently propagandistic cinema in Europe. Late 20th Century Romanian film under Nicolae Ceaușescu was consistently glossy but stale, relaying blatantly communist sympathies through simplistic stories, straightforward narrative linearity, often heavy in metaphor. Freed from state censorship and the narrative restraints of the Soviet era, A.O. Scott hailed the arrival of the movement on the global scene with his New York Times Magazine feature, "New Wave on the Black Sea". The Guardian following with their own critic's roundup, "Romania's New Wave is Riding High" and as a retrospective of it's formative years, there's not better overview than Shane Danielson's "Eastern Promise" for Sight & Sound. A notable benchmark for the movement, 2015 marked the 10th anniversary since Catalin Mitulescu's "Trafic" took the Short Film Palme d'Or at Cannes and Cristi Puiu's "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" was awarded the festival's Un Certain Regard. The anniversary commemorated by Film Society at Lincoln Center presenting their decade of Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema. This year also saw one of the movement's significant players, Corneliu Porumboiu stepping into sharp social satire with, "The Treasure". Lacking the more studied cultural critique of his excellent "Police, Adjective" and 2013's less successful, "When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism" he's assembled a darkly comic familial drama in, "‘The Treasure’: Digging for Something of Value in Romania". Yet his familial comedy is as surprising and grimly funny a denouement of the cultural and economic landscape of post-Ceaușescu Romania as anything this "Accidental Auteurist" has produced to date.

More than just a chamber drama observation on how "A Dead Flame Threatens a Marriage", Andrew Haigh has tackled the Hollywood taboo of later-years love with a sensitive and devastating portrait of a long, happy marriage in sudden crisis. "45 Years" explores the nuances of this suspended, curious limbo brought on by a sudden and unwelcome new understanding, upending the quiet later years in the lives of Charlotte Rampling's Kate and Tom Courtenay's Geoff, as retired schoolteacher and factory worker respectively. Their habitual and largely sedentary daily comforts of ritual walks through the countryside, occasional social visits to the local village, tea in the afternoon, books at bedtime - a world of simple but enriched middle-class comforts - is disrupted by an intrusion from the past. As survivors of Britain’s postwar transformation, beneficiaries of the expansion of post-War opportunity and the bounty of the 1960's social liberation movements, it isn’t difficult to conceive of an adventurous past for Geoff and Kate. The contrasting worldliness of their youth is strikingly tangible in this thoughtful, cultivated, left-wing couple, who are about to celebrate "45 Years" of quiet decades of stable marriage spent in the isolated eastern countryside of Norfolk, England. The power of this "Psychological Drama at its Most Delicate and Acute" based on David Constantine's "In Another Country" stems from the discrepancy between, on one hand, the strangeness of the event from Geoff's past and it's resurgence, and the comfortable mundanity of the world in which this drama unfolds. Hailed by The Guardian as the number one film that screened in the UK last year, Haigh's meticulous drama is ultimately not about the larger forces that tear relationships apart from without, but the the unresolved troubles that lurk in the minds of each individual while together. Suggesting that even after decades together, two people can remain perfect strangers.

By turns nostalgic, political, haunting, romantic, sensual and equal parts emotional as it is cerebral, Miguel Gomes' "Tabu" could be found on all of the most notable 2012 Films of the Year lists, from Sight & Sound to Film Comment, Cahiers du Cinema and online institutions like Fandor. He returns with an assembly of incidental, everyday news pulled from the headlines weave of life from post-austerity Portugal. Which Gomes then spins into a satirical, outwardly political refashioning of folk tales from the Islamic Golden Age. Few contemporary films, much less anything concerned with a central political premise addressing socioeconomic strife and the conditions of post-Austerity Europe, embrace sprawl and variety in style and substance to the extent of this three-part reimagining of "Arabian Nights". Both Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week and Dennis Lim's New York Times "Past is Present Yet Irretrievable" identify the signal attribute and only constant in his films as their unpredictability; from scene to scene often starting in one form and ending in another. Like much of his work it embodies his own wry spin on stylistic and thematic mutation, this “genre contamination" as Gomes calls it, explored in Cannes Interview for Film Comment. An attempt at summarizing the prominent plot points of "The Arabian Nights Trilogy" reads like an exquisite corpse; community advocates take it upon themselves to halt the invasive Asian wasp from displacing honeybee populations, an annual ritual of winter sea swimming is halted by the corpse of a dead whale, and dockworkers vent about labor losses documentary-style in "Volume 1, The Restless One". An alfresco court hosts an absurd Balzac-like chain of grievances and idiocies, all the while a charmed stray dog enhances the lives of everyone it touches in the downtrodden towerblock housing communities in, "Volume 2, The Desolate One". The remaining old shanty towns of Lisbon are the locus of a community of bird enthusiasts as they engage in rigorous song competitions in, "Volume 3, The Enchanted One" all intermittently punctuated in arabesque scenes on a mystical isle, in which Scheherazade herself appears offering interjections of the framing conceit. And like Scheherazade, Gomes has pulled out every storytelling trick in the book to span the film's epic 6 hour duration: prologues and epilogues, prolix voiceovers, obtuse framing devices, abundant on-screen titles and nested narratives within narratives. At once fabulous, quotidian and political, "Miguel Gomes Blends Fantasy and Real Life Fluidly in Arabian Nights".