Sunday, November 25, 2018

Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma" at Seattle Cinerama: Dec 6 - 19 | Lee Chang-dong's “Burning” at Northwest Film Forum: Dec 7 - 14 | Ali Abbasi's "Border", Yorgos Lanthimos' “The Favorite” & Hirokazu Kore-eda's “Shoplifters” at SIFF Cinema: Nov 23 - 29 & Dec 7 - 27

The fruits of this past summer's Cannes and Venice festivals are beginning to arrive in domestic theaters. The prestigious festival on the French Riviera was accounted for as having the strongest offerings seen in decades. This was represented by the extensive and enthusiastic coverage to be found in the pages of the The New York Times, The Guardian, and roundups from Film Comment and The British Film Institute's Sight & Sound. Venice also had a notable year, with new films by Alfonso Cuaron, Joel and Ethan Coen, Mike Leigh, Luca Guadagninos, Paul Greengrass, Jacques Audiard, Brady Corbet, Julian Schnabel, and the historic premier of a recently completed late film from the legendary American director, "'The Other Side of the Wind': Lost Orson Welles Epic is A Hurricane of Anger and Wit". Questions of inclusion and representation have been dominant in recent years in relation to festival programming and the awards process. One of the most high profile approaches to these concerns was seen in Cannes' Cate Blanchett-led jury, which included a cross race, culture, and gender assembly of notable actors, directors and artists. With such names as Chang Chen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Khadja Nin, Denis Villeneuve, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Ava DuVernay, and Robert Guédiguia, among their numbers. The jury's realization of Cannes mission to represent quality work, regardless of it's origin was elucidated by its president, "Cate Blanchett States that Change Will Come to Cannes, but Not Overnight". With the awards given, further elaborating on the question of representation was made, "Jury Head Cate Blanchett on Gender, Race and Choosing the ‘Right’ Palme D’Or".

Which brings us to the bestowing of Cannes' most prestigious award on Hirokazu Kore-eda's class conscious urban tale of "A Family That Steals Together, Stays Together". It was this most recent in a decades-spanning line of contemporary familial dramas that the Japanese director took home hist first Palme d'Or for "Shoplifters". While closely adhering to the form and content of the larger body of the director's filmmography, spanning his first breakout feature to this most recent, this "Unfancied Japanese Film Took the Palme d'Or", with Blanchett adding at the awards ceremony; “The ending blew us out of the cinema”. From the Italian festival on the Adriatic, Alfonso Cuaron's best director winning, "Roma" stood out as the director's revisiting of his own Central American of decades past. In "Alfonso Cuarón's Return to Venice with a Heart-Rending Triumph", the academy award winning director has made an exquisite study of class and domestic crisis in 1970s Mexico City. In "Alfonso Cuarón’s Masterpiece of Memory", the director uses one hosehold, and the location the the street where they reside as the point of vantage onto an expansive, emotional portrait of life buffeted by violent forces and change. Working on a scale often reserved for war stories and historic period dramas, yet with the sensibility of a personal diarist, "Cuarón’s 'Roma' Surrounds us with the Mexico City of His Youth". As seen in a recent string of releases funded by the platforms of Amazon and Netflix, for all the film's lauded quality, it will be receiving the shortest of theatrical runs at Seattle's Cinerama. Also arriving from Cannes, "Border" is a naturalistically fantastic second film from director Ali Abbasi, based on the short story from "Let the Right One In" author John Ajvide Lindqvist. Like Lindqvist's dark adolescent coming of age vampire story, Abbasi's film spends much of it's time teasingly parcelling out the romantic inclinations, and consequences therein, of the meeting of two mythological outcasts. Only in its closing chapter revealing the true nature of their world and it's consequences in the modern age of man.

Having built a filmography on outrageous premises, a self-conscious deadpan style, and actors skilled in a explicitly cryptic form of straight-faced absurdity, it seemed almost inevitable that Yorgos Lanthimos would work his way to period drama. He arrives fully formed in the genre with “The Favorite”. The newest in a filmography of "Polarizing Visions" from the Greek director, this is a venomous and often hilarious exercise, made that much more disorienting by the distended, off-kilter wide angle cinematography of Robbie Ryan. While, "Olivia Colman is Priceless in Yorgos Lanthimos Punk Historic Romp", it is the conflict between Emma Stone's Abigail Masham and Rachel Weisz' Sarah Churchill on which the film hinges. Weisz plays the Queen Anne's court favorite and intimate, Lady Sarah The Dutchess of Marlborough, deploying every sly and subversive trick to keep the monarch codependent and receptive to the raising of taxes for the ongoing French War. A rivalry arises between the two women of historic proportions with the arrival and influence of Marlborough's cousin, and it is in this that Lanthimos finds his most fertile and scabrous material. Upping his technical form and content, Lee Chang-dong's "Burning" is a sensuously shot and musically scored mystery, taken from a Haruki Murakami short story centering around the (sometimes hallucinatory) fixations of an obsessive love. Where it differs is that its psychological drama is set in the cultural fallout of modern consumerist Korea, with bold diversions into the pastoral and surreal, this visually gripping observation on, "Male Rage Blazes a Chilling Trail on the Korean Border". While desire, both physically ravenous and more romantically sinuous, is the defining theme of Chang-dong's film, it can't be said that "Love Ignites a Divided World". "Burning" foregrounds the uneasy violence that is seen glimpsed through the Murakami, leaving it's central mystery untouched while filling in the larger picture with the fine details of it's protagonists interpersonal and sexual relations, and the class divisions that separate them.