MOVIES ON BIG SCREENS – July 31, 2009

Wow. As in wow. This weekend’s slate of new theatrical releases in New York City reads like a potential Best Foreign Films of the Year list. Even if every distributor pooled their resources into putting out just one of these, the chances for breakout success would be difficult. But for them to all be released on the same weekend is both an inspiring and troubling proposition. Mostly, it’s just flat-out overwhelming. Still, if you’ve been feeling a case of the cinematic doldrums lately, it’s time to put up or shut up. It doesn’t get much better than this, in theory and in execution.

You, The Living — Though it’s only been out for two days, in these blink-and-forget times, and especially when looking at today’s slate of new releases, I wanted to mention it again. Roy Andersson’s film is something truly distinct. Read my review here, if you haven’t already. (Playing at the Film Forum.)

lornassilencestillLorna’s Silence — For those viewers who shrugged their shoulders at the latest Dardennes Brothers film when it bowed at Cannes last spring, I have only one thing to say to that nonsense: you are all so wrong that you might want to consider switching professions and start stocking shelves at a grocery store. Nobody—I repeat, nobody—makes electrifying thrillers with such a deep sense of moral duty as these gentlemen. And even if Jean-Pierre and Luc’s metaphors threaten to get too bluntly literal at times—i.e., Lorna’s bodily sacrifice to keep Jeremy Renier’s character from succumbing to drugs—it remains riveting because of their absolute mastery over tension and their unwavering commitment to the urgency of each and every moment. In Lorna’s Silence, they abandon their trademark roving hand-held camera and instead adopt a new approach. This time, they retain a feeling of nail-biting immediacy by placing their camera on a tripod (albeit a loose one) and panning relentlessly, as characters move into, out of, within, and around the frame. As the film builds to its mysteriously unsettling climax, as with just about all of the Dardennes Brothers’ work, Lorna’s Silence reaches a state of transcendence. This isn’t “minor Dardennes” by a very long shot. (Playing at Cinema Village.)

importexportstillImport/Export — It’s rather ironic that Ulrich Seidl’s most recent film is opening the same week as You, The Living, as both works confront the dramatic topic of modern European sadness with their own unique brands of humor. But whereas Andersson brings a cartoonish absurdity to his despondent world and maintains a fluttering air of hope throughout, Seidl goes straight for the grimily realistic, and more grittily hopeless, jugular. Import/Export is borderline punishing, as it tells parallel stories about a Ukrainian woman who leaves her baby and mother behind to start a new life in Austria, and an Austrian man who travels to the Ukraine with his mother’s slimy boyfriend to deliver a video game console. For the first hour, I found myself wondering if their paths would intersect, but I gradually understood that Seidl had no interest in bringing this conceit into the picture. As the young woman toils away in a hospital for the loony and decrepit (think Harmony Korine’s Titicut Follies), the young man watches his mother’s boyfriend sexually humiliate a pretty young girl and ventures into a war-torn apartment complex that delivers the film’s most haunting and apocalyptic imagery. If all of this sounds disturbingly bleak, it is. But Seidl keeps his main characters acting dignified, which is enough to provide the film with a tiny smidgen of hope. Import/Export left me pondering the following question: is this part of the world really like this or has Seidl simply realized his vision with such ferocious authenticity that it just feels like it? I sure hope it’s the latter. (Playing at Anthology Film Archives.)

Thirst — I have yet to see Park Chan-wook’s latest display of operatic razzle-dazzle, in which a priest becomes a vampire, but the wildly differing reactions of so many have only made me more optimistic. If everyone loved it, my bar of expectation would inevitably lead to disappointment. And if everyone hated it, well, then, they would probably be right. When it comes to Chan-wook, I find myself being able to forgive his indulgences, of which it sounds like this film has many. But it also sounds like Thirst has some genuine philosophical meat to chew on (or should I say blood to suck?). Count me there. (Playing at the Sunshine.)

Flame & Citron — In any other week, this would be an upper tier release, but taking into account the four titles above, it can’t help but suffer. Fortunately, for IFC Films, their movie has Nazis in it! Not only that, it plays more like a stylish political thriller than a sappy Holocaust drama, which will certainly add to the allure for audiences. Ole Christian Madsen’s film tells the true-life story of two Danes who fought the resistance in Copenhagen by becoming shadowy, hard-to-pin-down hitmen. Though it’s based on true events, Madsen is coming from Movieland as opposed to Realworldville just about every step of the way. This kept me from being genuinely moved by it, but it’s an impressive production nonetheless. (Playing at the Sunshine and Lincoln Plaza.)

The Cove — Consider me in the minority on this one. Something about The Cove felt too polished, or that it had too much money behind it, to make me care about it. It’s expertly realized, yet it’s expertly realized in the way that a Michael Bay production is expertly realized. I don’t know. I saw it at Sundance after a long week of hype building, but something about it simply didn’t land for me. Maybe I like sushi too much, or maybe it was just a timing thing. That said, I found myself far more drawn into next month’s At the Edge of the World, which pirates its way into similar waters. Aside from a painfully obtrusive score, there was just a more Herzogian, ramshackle energy to that film that jived with my senses more than this shiny, big-budget one did. But as I said, don’t listen to me, as this is shaping up to be this year’s Man on Wire. (Playing at the Angelika and The Beekman.)

— Michael Tully

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