By Timbi Shepherd, Editor-in-Chief
Consider this the B-side to Michael O’Hearn’s list, published last week.
- Welcome to Me
Carol Burnett’s zany variety-show antics meet Michel de Montaigne’s personal, essayistic brand of philosophy in this absurd, kitschy and totally relatable exploration of the self — of how we can both lose and find ourselves in art, which, in this case, looks deceptively like bad TV. But must I really say more than “Kristen Wiig in a swan boat?”
- It Follows
From the extended opening shot of a girl more or less sashaying away in blood-red heels — away from what, we do not know — director David Robert Mitchell plays on the silly, often misogynistic tropes of ‘70s and ‘80s horror films, namely A Nightmare on Elm Street and the films of John Carpenter. Though, this is no slut-shaming genre exercise. Here, characters experience the consolation as well as the emotional complexities of sex. The film’s ethereal visuals and Disasterpeace’s synth score are the stuff of dreams and fairy tales.
Playing like a mashup of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and a John Hughes movie, Prince is a highly stylized, but nonetheless raw and deeply felt coming-of-age tale. Alternately glossy and gritty, the film grounds the punch-drunk angst and raging, swooning hormones of its protagonist, a Moroccan-Dutch adolescent, in a harsh social reality that attempts to push him aside as a bum or, worse, a mutt. In defiance, he pushes back against his enemies. In defiance, he forgives them. Above all, he cries out his humanity, evoking marginalized Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas’s famous words, “I scream, therefore I am.”
- Tom at the Farm and Mommy
I have to admit I have a crush on so-called “enfant terrible et prodige” Xavier Dolan, so excuse me for squeezing two of his films into one spot. In Tom at the Farm, the young director ambitiously channels Flannery O’Connor to tell a gothic tale of love and hate, grief and remorse, sexual repression and internalized homophobia. Tensions burst into tango as the film’s central duo let off steam in the sexiest barn dance ever. Mommy, a work of great élan and gravitas, takes Dolan’s art to new emotional heights and depths. Baddest bitch alive Anne Dorval (here having fun playing a basic bitch), teen heartthrob Antoine-Olivier Pilon, and my personal heroine, Suzanne Clément, are simultaneously true-to-life and larger-than-life in their interpretations of three lost souls who can’t live with or without each other. They are devastatingly star-crossed. Cue Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die.”
- Salvation Army
Based on his autobiographical novella of the same name, openly gay Moroccan author-director Abdellah Taïa’s 84-minute Salvation Army tells a great deal with great reserve. I might rename this Scenes from Under (Queer) Childhood, after Stan Brakhage’s tactile masterpiece, for its sensuous evocation of Taïa’s yearnings as a boy for the affection of his father and his older brother, his reaching out for the touch of strange men on the street and his offering his pubescent body to sex tourism. Taïa also impresses upon us his desperate need for human connection after emigrating for his studies in French literature and, in the film’s most tender and lyrical moment, his communion with a fellow Moroccan emigrant in the intimate quarters of a Salvation Army. Agnès Godard, perhaps one of the three best cinematographers in the world, captures all of these affective, touching moments with keen sight and fine feeling.
- Clouds of Sils Maria
The hazy, obliquely glimpsed scenes of Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria fade one into the next as you would wake up just before the consummation of a dream. The film’s most elegantly composed images seem to decompose just as elegantly. They evanesce, fleet away from you. The dramaturgical scene transitions mark the passage of time as an aging theater actress loses ever more of herself in vain attempts to regain her youth. The scenario, along with Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart’s sharp but sensitive interpretations of their characters, calls to mind R. W. Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, but Assayas makes this film looser, more abstract, more mysterious.
- About Elly
The irony of this title is that the eponymous Elly disappears about a third of the way through the film, rupturing the narrative as well as profoundly disrupting the lives of the other characters. Director Asghar Farhadi, who turns out consistently piercing studies of Iranian domestic life, devises a cunning parable about the pernicious effects of rigid social conventions and niceties. Farhadi’s misguided characters spin a complex web of lies in which they find themselves caught tragically by their own devices.
3–1. The Dam Keeper, World of Tomorrow, Joanna, respectively
For me, this has been the year of the short film. These three small, life-affirming masterpieces distill their subjects into a visual, emotional and spiritual purity unmatched by any other film this year. The Dam Keeper’s sensitive, empathic rendering of subjective states through the interplay of light and shadows, World of Tomorrow’s vivid, expressionistic use of colors, lines and simple shapes to get at our most abstract questions of what it means to be human and Joanna’s gentle, natural illumination of life’s subtle gestures and broad movements, its vicissitudes and moments of calm — all are sights to behold. These films move me to tears. And yet, their cathartic power achieves something like grace.