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IN REVIEW ONLINE<br />

FEATURES<br />

CINEMA DU REEL 2023<br />

THE FUCKEE’S HYMN — 1<br />

SLAUGHTERHOUSES OF<br />

MODERNITY — 2<br />

EVENTIDE — 2<br />

ALLENSWORTH — 4<br />

LABERINT SEQUENCES — 4<br />

ORLANDO — 5<br />

PARADIS — 5<br />

LAST THINGS — 6<br />

LA BONGA — 6<br />

GEOGRAPHIES OF SOLITUDE — 8<br />

ONLOOKERS — 8<br />

ROCK BOTTOM RISER — 9<br />

BEING IN A PLACE: A PORTRAIT OF<br />

MARGARET TAIT — 10<br />

OUR BODY — 10<br />

THE SECRET GARDEN — 11<br />

A SPELL TO WARD OFF THE<br />

DARKNESS — 12<br />

SOUVENIR D’ATHÈNES — 12<br />

CHILDREN OF THE MIST — <strong>13</strong><br />

TWO RESERVOIRS<br />

An Interview with Léa Mysius — 14<br />

KICKING THE CANON<br />

UNKNOWN PLEASURES — 17<br />

FILM REVIEWS<br />

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR<br />

AMONG THIEVES — 19<br />

ENYS MEN — 21<br />

KIL BOKSOON — 22<br />

A THOUSAND AND ONE — 24<br />

RYE LANE — 25<br />

IN VIAGGIO — 27<br />

THE LINE — 28<br />

MURDER MYSTERY 2 — 30<br />

SMOKING CAUSES COUGHING — 31<br />

TETRIS — 31<br />

THE INNOCENT — 32<br />

WINNIE-THE-POOH: BLOOD AND<br />

HONEY — 33<br />

GIRAFFE — 34<br />

ALBUM REVIEWS<br />

LIL KEED — 35<br />

DEPECHE MODE — 36<br />

ALY& AJ — 37<br />

March 31, 2023<br />

<strong>Volume</strong> 1, <strong>Issue</strong> <strong>13</strong>


CINÉMA DU RÉEL 2023<br />

THE FUCKEE’S HYMN<br />

Travis Wilkerson<br />

The ghosts of the Vietnam War now outrank the survivors. After<br />

fifty years, it may as well be ancient history, with Ken Burns’<br />

recent documentary, The Vietnam War, solidifying its place as a<br />

research project not unlike his Civil War. Kissinger’s still around,<br />

of course, and every once in a while, one may spot the golden<br />

“VIETNAM VETERAN” adorning a black hat, but the war’s individual<br />

moments have been long subsumed into a mythic tale about the<br />

limits of American hubris. But, the children of those veterans still<br />

carry the residual traumas of those moments, and in them, the<br />

ghosts find their vessels.<br />

Travis Wilkerson, director of radical political documentaries such<br />

as the magnificent An Injury to One, was one such child. His last<br />

few projects have been increasingly personal, focusing mostly on<br />

the sins and stories of his own family to illustrate larger political<br />

issues. His latest, The Fuckee’s Hymn, continues the pattern by<br />

amending his 2011 Distinguished Flying Cross with more stories<br />

about Wilkerson’s late father and his role in the Vietnam War.<br />

Here, Wilkerson takes a more philosophical approach by<br />

questioning the role of stories in the war, as well as how those<br />

stories directly affected his father. “Can a story kill you?”<br />

Wilkerson teases. You probably know the answer.<br />

Dense forest growth in high contrast black-and-white dominates<br />

the frame for most of The Fuckee’s Hymn’s running time.<br />

Wilkerson’s movies usually play like a visual radio show, so the<br />

slow series of landscape shots merely serve as context for the<br />

wider story. Here, the forest and surrounding flora are eventually<br />

revealed to be the land around his parents’ house, with the house<br />

itself briefly making a cameo (though only its darkest recesses<br />

are shown with a sliver of light to mark a bathroom in a long<br />

hallway). Meanwhile, Wilkerson narrates his story with the<br />

circuitous rhythms of a Faulkner character, often interrupting<br />

himself, starting the story again, or allowing the strength of a<br />

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FESTIVAL COVERAGE<br />

tangential story take over. With his commentary on the deadly<br />

alchemy of storytelling, the curse of family memory, and the<br />

ghosts that live in the margins of his father’s legacy, Wilkerson<br />

has forged a true Vietnam Gothic.<br />

“Wilkerson [makes] his subject,<br />

as personal a subject as one<br />

can get, the centerpiece of our<br />

collective fears, guilt, and<br />

doubt about the war.<br />

After meditating on the power of stories and myths “that can turn<br />

killers into heroes,” we learn the specifics of the elder<br />

Wilkerson’s Vietnam career. He joins the army as it provides the<br />

only way for a blue-collar kid to learn how to fly, he becomes the<br />

youngest pilot to graduate from his base in Alabama, he’s<br />

awarded one of the most prestigious medals a pilot can achieve,<br />

he’s considered a hero, and he regrets all of it. Travis then<br />

supplies his own memories of his father as he knew him: an<br />

esteemed trauma doctor and professor who saved lives, only to<br />

succumb to a form of cancer that only agent orange can induce.<br />

Even if he tried to live through acts of service to exorcize the<br />

ghosts of Vietnam, the ghosts can still occupy the body.<br />

Wilkerson repeatedly teases a story that simultaneously put his<br />

father in Vietnam, made his father regret Vietnam, and ultimately<br />

killed his father; but a secondary story haunts both Wilkerson<br />

and the film itself. Flashes of red interrupt the serene forest<br />

imagery, a face appears in the shadows. Eventually, Wilkerson<br />

recounts the spiritual horror of watching Hong Sen Nguyen’s The<br />

Abandoned Field, a film that depicts American pilots as<br />

unrelenting monsters to a small Vietnamese village and ends<br />

with both Vietnamese and American boys fatherless. Clips of the<br />

film dissolve into the American woods during the breaks in<br />

Wilkerson’s monologue, providing the only war imagery and the<br />

only faces visible in the film. They, too, haunt.<br />

Films like The Fuckee’s Hymn, such as James N. Kienetz Wilkins’<br />

Indefinite Pitch, remain interesting so long as the radio play<br />

format holds your attention. Thankfully, Wilkerson pauses,<br />

enunciates, grumbles, and teases enough to make his subject, as<br />

personal a subject as one can get, the centerpiece of our<br />

collective fears, guilt, and doubt about the war. Storytelling, that<br />

ancient art, belongs to the characters of the Gothic like the<br />

neighbors of Absalom, Absalom! who corner the novel’s Quentin<br />

and ramble lies about half-forgotten pasts, then begin again as if<br />

telling the story in the right way will hex the ghosts back into<br />

history. Wilkerson’s story is also one of half-remembrances and<br />

stories that earn a warning: “even if they’re not real, they’re true.”<br />

But, he doesn’t tell his story again. Stories can kill you. — ZACH<br />

LEWIS<br />

EVENTIDE<br />

Sharon Lockhart<br />

In her remarkable 2021 book on James Benning’s Ten Skies, critic<br />

and scholar Erika Balsom remarks that the film “at once rewards<br />

a close attention to detail and sanctions wayward drift.” It’s a<br />

lovely turn of phrase, and one quite applicable to Sharon<br />

Lockhart’s new short film Eventide. The two artists — Benning<br />

SLAUGHTERHOUSES OF MODERNITY<br />

Heinz Emigholz<br />

“Never before has Emigholz quite editorialized his architectural tours. Title cards with names of cities and dates of the works<br />

usually give the only context to his series of shots, allowing the viewer to infer any meaning themselves. Perhaps a dilapidated<br />

building in the countryside followed by a pristine building in the city, both made in the same year by the same architect, is a<br />

commentary on how and what the government funds. Perhaps an empty auditorium shows how much community life has<br />

dwindled. Film studies professors typically label this as “structuralist,” and the process can be just as fun as it is quintessentially<br />

snobbish. This is not the case for Slaughterhouses, as Emigholz conducts lectures about the politics and history of each work and<br />

lays out the connections explicitly.” — ZACH LEWIS [Originally published as part of InRO’s NYFF 2022 coverage.]<br />

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CINÉMA DU RÉEL<br />

and Lockhart — have cited each other’s works as influences in<br />

their own, and even published a book together last year, titled<br />

Over Time. Fittingly, both artists’ works are deceptively simple to<br />

describe, while simultaneously invoking larger formal and<br />

philosophical ideas about duration, stasis, and movement. As<br />

Chus Martinez writes, “her [Lockhart’s] images determine our<br />

understanding of time and action through the grieving<br />

discrepancy between aesthetic expectation and the seeming<br />

unity of time passing… a potentially endless stasis difficult to<br />

recognise or delimit in terms of action or conclusion.”<br />

The simplest thing to do with Lockhart’s films is, of course, to<br />

look at them. Eventide begins with a single, static camera setup.<br />

It does not cut or move for the next 30 minutes. The horizon line<br />

cuts evenly across the frame; a body of water (this writer is not<br />

sure if it is an ocean or a lake) with small, gently lapping waves is<br />

on screen left, while a rocky shoreline and scattered shrubbery<br />

extend across the frame to the right. A particularly large bit of<br />

foliage sits in the middle of the image. It’s dark, although it’s at<br />

first unclear whether it is dawn or dusk. A man enters frame left,<br />

walking across the ground with a flashlight. Eventually, another<br />

body, a woman, emerges from the same direction just as the first<br />

person walks behind some of the shrubs and disappears from<br />

the frame. The second figure is further back in the depth of field,<br />

momentarily alone until the man re-emerges from behind the<br />

shrubs; he's now on the same focal plane as the woman. While<br />

these figures slowly traverse the grounds, their flashlights<br />

pointed down in search of an unknown something or other, the<br />

sky darkens, and stars become more visible.<br />

At around the eight-minute mark, a third figure appears, hitherto<br />

fully hidden by the shrubs and their distance from the camera (a<br />

game of focal lengths). A tiny pinprick of light appears in the<br />

deep background, suggesting now a fourth body. One of the<br />

people moves closer to the water, and the brightness of their<br />

flashlight begins reflecting off of the surface of the water, a<br />

lovely tinkling, shimmering light. Two more figures arrive; it’s<br />

unclear at first if one of them was the light source in the<br />

distance and has simply walked closer to the main point of<br />

action, but eventually that’s revealed, too. Six people are now<br />

wandering the ground, each of them illuminated by their<br />

flashlights. Even more stars are visible in the sky, as the<br />

increasing darkness of the evening throws the light sources into<br />

even sharper relief. Some of the people seem to pair off,<br />

assisting each other in their unknown quest, while others remain<br />

alone, content to investigate their own little patch of earth. What<br />

are they looking for? We don’t know, and no narrative information<br />

is forthcoming.<br />

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FESTIVAL COVERAGE<br />

It’s a formal game, while also being, of course, a documentary of<br />

sorts, and the mixture of the two modes is where much of the<br />

interest lies. As in her films Double Tide and Goshogaoka, Eventide<br />

is a carefully choreographed performance piece (one could argue<br />

that it’s actually a direct synthesis of these two prior works) that<br />

gestures toward chance operations even as it’s, in actuality, a<br />

document of predetermined movements. The surface simplicity<br />

— a group of people wander about as dusk becomes dark —<br />

belies the precision of Lockhart’s decision-making. But the<br />

emphasis on time, that inalienable filmic element so frequently<br />

diminished and quashed by narrative allows for all manner of<br />

Balsom’s “wayward drift.” One is free to pay more or less<br />

attention to any part of the image at any given moment, so much<br />

so that viewers might not notice how bright the stars have<br />

become or that one or more of the figures have momentarily<br />

been obscured by the brush. In some sense, it even becomes<br />

Tati-like, inasmuch as Noël Burch recognized that the deep focus<br />

photography of Playtime allowed viewers to focus on only one<br />

part of the image at any given moment. For all its static<br />

austerity, then, Eventide is ultimately an entirely invigorating<br />

experience. — DANIEL GORMAN<br />

ALLENSWORTH<br />

James Benning<br />

“Since moving from 16mm to digital nearly fifteen years ago,<br />

James Benning’s films have become more and more stringent,<br />

foregoing surface incident in favor of intensive examination of<br />

the outside world. The freedom to make the films he wants,<br />

whenever and wherever he wants, has led to a profound<br />

paring-down of cinematic language in which fixed-frame<br />

images of mostly non human subjects — landscapes, buildings,<br />

trains — are offered to the viewer for minutes at a time. By<br />

temporalizing space in this manner, Benning’s films seem to<br />

ask us to look beyond the placid surface of these shots, and to<br />

consider the unseen social relations that brought them into<br />

being, as well as the power structures that keep them in<br />

place… Even by Benning’s minimalist standards, his new film<br />

Allensworth addresses the viewer with a radically reduced<br />

palette.” — MICHAEL SICINSKI [Originally published as part of<br />

InRO’s Berlinale 2023 coverage.]<br />

LABERINT SEQUENCES<br />

Blake Williams<br />

At times, Laberint Sequences, the new short film by Blake<br />

Williams, feels a bit like an experimental feature, despite being<br />

only 20 minutes long. That's because the artist packs a lot of<br />

material in a relatively small space, introducing several visual<br />

ideas and subjecting them to systematic yet unanticipated<br />

permutations. The film was mostly shot at Barcelona's Parque del<br />

Laberint d'Horta, a Neoclassical garden space that contains a<br />

large hedge maze. After beginning with a stereoscopic image of<br />

the garden, Williams provides a number of isolated views of the<br />

space, including plants and trees, a canal with fountains, and a<br />

work of classicist statuary. We also see several shots of a<br />

reflecting pool at the center of the labyrinth, with a few tourists<br />

milling about, including a couple of kids running through the<br />

space. This series of shots, like the entire film, is presented in<br />

anaglyph 3D, so in a way, Williams is both offering the viewer the<br />

basic lay of the land as well as getting us accustomed to the<br />

multi-planar depth of the 3D, and how it accentuates certain<br />

attributes of the garden while flattening others.<br />

At this point, things start getting a bit raucous. Situating his<br />

camera at various angles of the hedges, and then panning back<br />

and forth, Williams uses the moving frame to reconfigure the<br />

visual space, the labyrinth forming solid masses that swivel<br />

across the image. Of course, we expect that we might get "lost"<br />

inside the hedge maze, but this camera movement doesn't<br />

correspond to how any human would navigate the space. Instead,<br />

it is as though the space is shifting around us (and the<br />

occasionally still-visible humans inside). Establishing shots with<br />

a stationary camera keep giving way to these kinetic passages,<br />

which are all the more dramatic because of the use of 3D. After<br />

some digital manipulation of the image -- perhaps a callback to<br />

certain motifs in Williams’ feature film PROTOTYPE -- we begin to<br />

see shots looking up through the trees. At this point, aerial cable<br />

cars make their first appearance, first traversing the screen,<br />

then offering birds-eye views of the garden, and then finally a<br />

few shots from inside the moving car.<br />

Following some brief pans inside an empty room overlooking the<br />

woods (with expansive, Mies-style windows and parquet flooring),<br />

Laberint Sequences includes shots from an old movie, in which<br />

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CINÉMA DU RÉEL<br />

two women are trying to find their way through a hedge maze in<br />

the dark by candlelight. We see scan lines that suggest Williams<br />

is filming off the television monitor, and eventually, he shows us<br />

earlier scenes from the Laberint with a similar televisual<br />

abstraction. But in between, we see shots of Deragh Campbell, in<br />

her role as Audrey Benac from A Woman Escapes, last year’s<br />

feature that Williams co-directed with Burak Çevik and Sofia<br />

Bohdanowicz. Campbell is seated at a laptop watching the film in<br />

question, and, scanning through text on her phone, she speaks<br />

the women's dialogue along with the footage.<br />

Clearly, Laberint Sequences puts the viewer through their paces,<br />

taking a fairly simple idea -- a study of a manicured landscape --<br />

and introducing denser and denser layers of abstraction. From<br />

an homage to the late Michael Snow, and his panning film ,<br />

to a mechanically achieved birds-eye view, to an appropriation<br />

of relevant material from a piece of narrative cinema<br />

("something horizontal," we might say), and finally a performer<br />

subjecting that outside material to critical scrutiny, this film<br />

explores the many ways that a cultural landmark, usually subject<br />

to the tourist's gaze, can be intellectually reorganized through<br />

filmic intervention. And through it all, Laberint Sequences<br />

maintains the hazy, protruding anaglyph 3D, a method that<br />

implies a promise of presence ("like being there") but actually<br />

doubles down on the representational remove. — MICHAEL<br />

SICINSKI<br />

PARADISE<br />

Alexandre Abaturov<br />

While global headlines are presently dominated by Russia’s<br />

ongoing onslaught of imperialist atrocity, Alexander Abaturov’s<br />

Paradise turns its eye to the country’s east, where casual<br />

bureaucratic cruelty fixes the Republic of Sakha’s taiga-dwelling<br />

denizens in perpetual danger. An opening text scrawl offers<br />

specifics: in summer 2021, an extreme heatwave and resulting<br />

drought triggered massive forest fires, and it was decided that in<br />

certain, rural areas, no government-backed firefighting<br />

intervention was needed if the anticipated damages fell short of<br />

the expense to challenge the blazes. It was left to local<br />

inhabitants, then, to fight The Dragon, as the cascading, racing<br />

flames were so dubbed. This opening is immediately followed by<br />

a young girl in the village of Shologon (where the documentary is<br />

ORLANDO, MY POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY<br />

Paul B. Preciado<br />

“Its primary thrust features a number of trans and non-binary<br />

people playing the role of Orlando. Each actor introduces<br />

themself with their own name, but what may initially appear to<br />

be a similar approach to last year’s Encounters entry<br />

Mutzenbacher quickly gives way to a more explicit blurring of<br />

personal narrative and adaptation. Preciado cuts between<br />

talking head interviews with the actors and scenes from the<br />

novel, but actors flow from discussing their own experiences<br />

to speaking as Orlando in the first person, sometimes on the<br />

scale of a sentence, and the scenes of adaptation are shot on<br />

a soundstage, temporally and spatially expanding themselves<br />

beyond the context of the novel into that of filmmaking. This<br />

latter approach is eventually revealed to be self-reflexive in its<br />

self-reflection, as Preciado explicitly compares the trans<br />

experience of gender to a behind the scenes look at<br />

filmmaking.” — JESSE CATHERINE WEBBER [Originally published<br />

as part of InRO’s Berlinale 2023 coverage.]<br />

set) attempting to memorize a passage: “Advise me, sacred<br />

mountain. How does one reconcile man?”<br />

It’s a question that is, of course, unanswerable to any satisfying<br />

degree, but one which guides and pervades all of Abaturov’s<br />

observational, largely unstructured (in any conventional sense)<br />

Paradise, the query itself the closest we get to any kind of<br />

statement of intent. Everything is freighted with potential<br />

meaning. What of a government that places financial<br />

consideration above the lives of its citizens, particularly within<br />

this context where 80% of the regions affected by the enacted<br />

policy are dominated by ethnic minorities? What happens to a<br />

community’s collective psychology and identity when survival is a<br />

daily concern, life-and-death stakes rendered a mundanity? How<br />

does one’s notion of futurity reorganize itself around new<br />

realities?<br />

To the degree that Abaturov attempts any answers, he takes care<br />

to do so presentationally rather than discursively. Scenes of<br />

controlled burns, strategically felled trees, and planning sessions<br />

weave with those of wild horses kicking up dust on village<br />

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FESTIVAL COVERAGE<br />

LAST THINGS<br />

Deborah Stratman<br />

“Though cryptic and eccentric, this is far from Stratman’s most impenetrable work. Much like her previous film, The Illinois<br />

Parables (2016), Last Things frequently reformulates itself, armed with an arsenal of approaches. The movie embodies a variety<br />

of perspectives, from outer space to microscope slides, as Stratman’s images — landscapes, crystal and rock formations,<br />

sketches, spelunking and laboratory footage, celestial satellite imagery, microscopic forms, etc. — collectively embody an<br />

otherworldly thrill. The soundtrack (including pieces by Brian Eno and Okkyung Lee) and sound design (by Stratman herself) are<br />

often glitchy, alien, and sublime. Stratman’s rendition of rocks, in addition, highlights the complexities of their history and<br />

evolutions. She imbues them with a vastness far beyond the dismissal often extended to the inanimate objects.” — RYAN<br />

AKLER-BISHOP [Originally published as part of InRO’s Sundance 2023 coverage.]<br />

streets, the glow of a tablet reflecting on a child’s face, and locals<br />

eating sandwiches on lunch breaks, flames licking at the edges<br />

of their carved-out, temporary haven. Masks are a common<br />

sighting in Paradise as well, the associated suggestions of 2021’s<br />

Covid-era living both thematic companion and refraction of the<br />

community’s looming fiery threat; iconography we’ve internalized<br />

over the 2020s is subtly and powerfully abstracted in its opaque<br />

inclusion here. But no scene or rhetorical throughline is<br />

over-enunciated or saddled with maudlin sentiment, the weight<br />

of the film’s images to be read in the accumulation of spaces<br />

between them.<br />

This careful restraint likewise applies to Abaturov’s approach to<br />

visual construction, which is essential to Paradise’s considerable<br />

power. Thick, ochre-orange smoke clogs the film’s frames, its<br />

backgrounds choked in desaturation. There’s the insinuation of<br />

armageddon in its almost spectral compositions, black ash<br />

peppering the smoldering landscape — more than anything,<br />

Paradise’s visual character recalls the post-apocalyptic,<br />

sci-fi-inflected imagery of the Floria Sigismondi-directed music<br />

video from Sigur Ros’ “Vaka.” But thankfully, there is no needless<br />

aestheticizing here, which would have the effect of cheapening<br />

the very real human concerns inherent — spectacle is never the<br />

strategy or personality here. Abaturov instead keeps his formal<br />

designs humble, trusting in his portrait’s essential power to reach<br />

viewers. In one scene late in the film, a local worker, one of many<br />

in the group, beams, his unruly mustache entirely frozen, tendrils<br />

rigid as they move over his upper lip. There’s melancholy in<br />

Paradise, but as in that indelible image, there’s also a curious joy;<br />

in the land, in each other, and in surviving. The Dragon is still out<br />

out there, uncertainty remains, help may not come. But we smile<br />

our way into tomorrow, as best we can. — LUKE GORHAM<br />

LA BONGA<br />

Sebastán Pinzón Silva & Canela Rayes<br />

Most of La Bonga takes place in darkness; just flashlights serve<br />

as key lights while voices (voiceovers? diegetic?) guide the shaky<br />

frame to an invisible destination. This destination is the titular La<br />

Bonga, a village that exists only in the memories of those who<br />

once lived there in the north Colombian jungle. Now, the villagers<br />

are resettling after years of displacement, and directors<br />

Sebastán Pinzón Silva and Canela Rayes document this nocturnal<br />

trek and celebration.<br />

The film switches between two focal points: a caravan of those<br />

villagers and friends making the return together and a solitary<br />

mother and daughter duo who take a path separated from the<br />

others. Through both groups, Silva and Rayes collect flashes of<br />

stories about old village life and the subsequent expulsion. A man<br />

in a pink Frozen backpack jokes with his friends, while a<br />

53-year-old woman compliments an 82-year-old man on his<br />

endurance, while memories of white people threatening their<br />

lives suddenly surface. Steadily, the film reveals that the villagers<br />

of La Bonga were threatened to leave their homes twenty years<br />

ago, during the Colombian Civil War, as they were seen as assets<br />

of the guerrilla fighters (FARC is never mentioned by name).<br />

Emotional whiplash overwhelms the villagers as they finally<br />

return to the ruins of La Bonga: some buildings, such as the<br />

“recently” built school, still stand while entire homes have<br />

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FESTIVAL COVERAGE<br />

framed under a massive tree during the first minutes of dawn<br />

such that their long series of shadows gives us an idea of the<br />

size of the village before cutting to individual portraits, usually lit<br />

by flashlight. Another shot frames their lights in the nighttime to<br />

show a series of tiny lights in the distance snaking their way<br />

through the brush of the jungle. And, in the sort of serendipity a<br />

documentarian prays for, the daughter of our duo puts her<br />

flashlight in her umbrella, which then becomes a makeshift<br />

diffuser as they rest and talk. All of these planned, framed shots<br />

work well when showing a group, but La Bonga’s wisdom lies in its<br />

ability to interrupt these beautiful moments with the<br />

improvisatory, cheap DV confessionals so that we can see the<br />

village’s life in the villagers and vice versa. Silva and Rayes show<br />

the history and lives that make up a community; and, though the<br />

houses may no longer stand, and each villager may have<br />

moments in which they wander in solemnity, the party continues<br />

for now. — ZACH LEWIS<br />

GEOGRAPHIES OF SOLITUDE<br />

Jacquelyn Mills<br />

“More so than a narrative disruption, Mills’ experimental<br />

digressions are, in effect, an attempt to probe and reflect the<br />

push and pull at the heart of Lucas’ environmentalism.<br />

Moments like Lucas’ introduction into the film, walking with a<br />

lantern amidst a pitch black sky perforated with stars; at once<br />

wholly a part of the environment, just another gleaming light,<br />

and yet distinct, somehow apart from the natural fabric of the<br />

place and relegated to forever be an observer. The true<br />

solitude of the film's title reveals itself slowly, in the<br />

uncomfortable middle ground that we seem to occupy<br />

somewhere between Mills' gorgeous compositions: the rugged<br />

mosaic of horse skulls and the cloying primary colors of plastic<br />

detritus.” — IGOR FISHMAN [Originally published as part of InRO’s<br />

Sundance 2023 coverage.]<br />

ONLOOKERS<br />

Kimi Takesue<br />

Kimi Takesue’s third feature film is a fraught, respectably<br />

reflexive process in objectification. Utilizing the much ado of the<br />

tourism industry as our subject (through which it extrapolates its<br />

thesis), Onlookers revels in familiar formal intrigues: static,<br />

compositionally-minded cinematography, distanced gazes, and<br />

soundscapes with ambient sensibilities that somehow recall that<br />

great sandbox video game, Roller Coaster Tycoon 3. To find an<br />

easy and important analog for this film, one might turn to a work<br />

such as Sergei Loznitsa’s Austerlitz, insofar as the subject of<br />

tourism orbits and enables anthropological examination. But<br />

where Loznitsa rooted his analysis in the constructs built from<br />

the relationship with one, very specifically formulated space —<br />

where history can play contingent text to the present’s passivity<br />

— Takesue seems disinterested in anything so determined. Her<br />

montage interlaces landscapes, each often occupied by Laotians<br />

or tourists — persons consistently participating in acts religious,<br />

economic, or excursionist. There’s no discrimination between<br />

these acts, no delineated structure that curates an ideological<br />

trajectory; instead, we simply gather the film’s thesis through<br />

motley organization: a reflexivity that contends with the<br />

camera’s foreign objecthood and its creation of everything<br />

before it into a flattened spectacle. Tethering such a structure of<br />

montage to the global tourism industry (not to mention Takesue’s<br />

vantage as an American filmmaker) makes for an exciting<br />

journey that plateaus about 11 minutes in.<br />

Formal introspection quickly becomes an act of stagnation,<br />

repeating with each new image the idea that came before it. The<br />

equivocal character of each shot asserts the character of the<br />

work as cinematic object. Nothing present in any of the rather<br />

immediate and obvious compositions denotes any sense of<br />

texture, lending an anonymity and ephemerality to the<br />

landscapes themselves, as is emphasized through a pacing in<br />

which each cut occurs within the span of 30 seconds: these<br />

static wides are then variants of the same conception. Sure,<br />

there’s intent in that choice, even articulated in the work’s very<br />

synopsis, but of course intentionality isn’t inherently a virtue. If<br />

this ideology of the montage is meant to be an expression of the<br />

ever-present parade of tourism as a neocolonial, parasitic<br />

industry, that’s a fine sentiment, but there’s little of note here<br />

that hasn’t already been contended with over two centuries of<br />

ethnographic image-making. In fact, it seems that Onlookers<br />

could have registered as a work of greater intrigue and affect<br />

were it a photographic project: an album of stills that curate our<br />

gaze, naturally bringing both attention to the ontological (as this<br />

does), the anthropological (as this does), but also to the object of<br />

curation as a historical process of the imagined (which this does<br />

8


CINÉMA DU RÉEL<br />

completely disappeared into the flora and mud. But that doesn’t<br />

stop Maria de los Santos, the leader of the caravan, from guiding<br />

a celebratory procession through the newfound village and<br />

declaring, “Goddamn, tonight I’m getting drunk no matter what!”<br />

before threatening, “Any men who fall asleep tonight will get their<br />

dicks chopped off!” She’s as serious about the ritualistic<br />

cleansing power of the party as others might be by mourning the<br />

memories never made.<br />

La Bonga, though brazenly political and humanistic, also<br />

develops an air of mystery by choosing what not to reveal.<br />

Though the story of the paramilitaries is told from multiple<br />

perspectives (the exact threatening note shown in an insert<br />

shot), the terms of their return are never given. Why did they<br />

return all at once? Where were they initially gathered before<br />

making the caravan? Did the government give them explicit<br />

permission to return, or was it decided communally via a<br />

diasporic WhatsApp group? All questions are rendered<br />

unimportant as the mythic nature of the return, like Odysseus to<br />

Penelope, takes shape. But then there’s a ghostly POV outside the<br />

caravan, and our duo provides a second mystery. Suddenly,<br />

during the first night’s celebration, handheld DV shots lead us<br />

away from the party and back to the abandoned school while a<br />

solitary, mysterious voiceover worries about getting lost, then<br />

reminisces about an old class. Surely, a shot like this comes from<br />

the filmmakers asking the villagers to shoot their own footage,<br />

but this interruption is placed such that it takes us outside any<br />

literal storytelling to simply meditate (drunkenly, hauntingly) on<br />

which memories cannot be reforged. The DV captures shallow<br />

water as flies, attracted to the camera’s solitary light, dart across<br />

the frame like fireworks. Suddenly, another cut, and the village is<br />

framed in a small corner with literal fireworks marking the party<br />

that still rages on.<br />

Though the majority of the film (both long sequences of the trek<br />

and most of the party) is filmed in the dark, Silva and Rayes<br />

consistently plan inventive ways to frame the villagers’<br />

processions. Many wide shots give profiles of the caravan<br />

7


CINÉMA DU RÉEL<br />

not), set within the subjective history of the photograph.<br />

The idea of the “photograph,” in fact, is overtly present<br />

throughout the film, implied and crystallized in the tourists’<br />

cameras wishing to neatly capture these places they visit and<br />

taking these images with them once their vacation comes to a<br />

close. Sound and time, ultimately, offer little here. They are both<br />

under-utilized and sterile, unnecessary for thematic<br />

extrapolation. This is a film that attunes itself to the formal<br />

machinations of familiar work — each year a lauded<br />

observational doc, hyper-focused on localized global trends,<br />

finds its way to some year-end lists and onto esteemed<br />

streaming platforms — and thus culminates in familiar<br />

perspectives and an even more familiar nondescriptness. With<br />

everything here pitched as a signifier of the exact same thing,<br />

and the signified remaining woefully ignorant to the introduced<br />

contexts, Onlookers is a tired echo of polemics long abstracted<br />

into the institutionalized nether. — ZACHARY GOLDKIND<br />

ROCK BOTTOM RISER<br />

Fern Silva<br />

This is a mode (and, more importantly, length) more typical<br />

amongst Fern Silva’s previous ethnographic pieces, but this being<br />

his first foray into feature-length duration, there obviously needs<br />

to be a little more going on to justify the additional 55 minutes.<br />

And there certainly is — including discussions of the colonial<br />

legacy of science, the communal debate around the construction<br />

of a 30-meter telescope on the sacred Mauna Kea mountain, the<br />

controversy surrounding Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson being cast<br />

as King Kamehameha when the actor isn’t an Indigenous<br />

Hawaiian — but none of these various threads are particularly<br />

fleshed-out on their own, as they’re usually thrown together to<br />

convey some nebulous notion of connectivity. — PAUL ATTARD<br />

[Originally published as part of InRO’s Berlinale 2021 coverage.]<br />

9


FESTIVAL COVERAGE<br />

BEING IN A PLACE: A PORTRAIT OF<br />

MARGARET TAIT<br />

Luke Fowler<br />

Luke Fowler’s latest feature film reflects a slight shift in his<br />

creative project, something that might not be immediately<br />

apparent even to longtime admirers of his work. Although he is<br />

an experimental documentarian, Fowler could also be<br />

considered an intellectual historian. His major works have<br />

focused on specific artists and thinkers of the last century,<br />

including psychologist R.D. Laing (2012’s All Divided Selves),<br />

historian E.P. Thomson (The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite<br />

Cropper, and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott, also<br />

2012), electronic composer Martin Bartlett (2017’s<br />

Electro-Pythagorus), and the short film Cézanne (2019). In<br />

each of these cases, Fowler has combined biographical data,<br />

images, and sounds from historically pertinent locations, and<br />

various excerpts from the subjects’ creations and archival<br />

holdings.<br />

The overall impression of Fowler’s films is that the past is a<br />

constellation, a series of objects and moments held together<br />

conceptually but never capable of forming an irrefutable whole.<br />

In that respect, Being In a Place is certainly of a piece with the<br />

director’s previous films. Composed largely of archival<br />

documents and voice recordings of the late Scottish poet and<br />

filmmaker Margaret Tait, the film abjures any simple didactic<br />

impulse, offering up fragments that provide an impressionistic<br />

sense of her creative worldview. However, this film also marks a<br />

turn toward speculative or corrective history, an attempt to<br />

tentatively accomplish something that Tait herself was unable to<br />

do.<br />

As we see from various notes, shot lists, and official letters of<br />

rejection, Tait was planning a project called Heartlandscape, a<br />

featurette in which she would trace a heart shape around<br />

Scotland with her camera. The film would combine Tait’s<br />

interests in nature and landscape cinema with her other primary<br />

tendency: cinematic portraiture. Moving through the land and<br />

encountering the people in it, Tait aimed to produce a kind of<br />

materialist panorama of her homeland. However, Fowler shows<br />

us documents from the Tait archive that show that at least two<br />

British media organizations, the BBC and Channel 4, rejected the<br />

project, essentially stating that the work Tait proposed did not fit<br />

their existing formats.<br />

So although Being In a Place indeed provides a portrait of<br />

Margaret Tait, Fowler is also trying to reconstruct<br />

Heartlandscape, based on the artist’s notes. This effort, however,<br />

is not revealed until the end of the film, and this makes the<br />

viewing experience a bit frustrating. We see Fowler out and about<br />

in the Scottish countryside, shooting people and recording their<br />

voices (although the two never sync up). But the purpose is<br />

unclear; this approach sometimes seems to be to the detriment<br />

of getting a firmer handle on Tait’s work. To be fair, Tait is<br />

probably the most studied and written-about Scottish artist of<br />

the 20 th century, so Fowler may have thought that a more<br />

conventional documentary, or even one more in keeping with his<br />

earlier strategies, would somehow be redundant. But the overall<br />

impact, while always intriguing, is ultimately rather mixed. We<br />

see and hear just enough of Tait to desire more access to her<br />

work and her thinking, and the supplement Fowler provides never<br />

quite coheres. Nevertheless, if Being In a Place encourages more<br />

viewers to seek out Tait’s quite singular films, it’s all for the best.<br />

— MICHAEL SICINSKI<br />

OUR BODY<br />

Claire Simon<br />

One possibility is that the observation of the camera precludes such violations. Though this may be too simplistic a read — even<br />

if Simon had captured such a traumatic moment, it’s almost unimaginable that she would have included it in the film — as well as<br />

an inimitable antidote, it does add to both the film’s emotional and practical heft. Besides functioning as an encouraging artifact<br />

for future patients, which is to say nearly everyone, as the woman who thanks Simon for filming her surgery hopes, it may at<br />

least be able to serve as a more holistic model for a right relationship between doctor and patient.” — JESSE CATHERINE WEBBER<br />

[Originally published as part of InRO’s Berlinale 2023 coverage.]<br />

10


CINÉMA DU RÉEL<br />

THE SECRET GARDEN<br />

Nour Ouayda<br />

Abbas Kiarostami’s 2008 film Shirin is constructed entirely of<br />

closeups of faces as spectators react to a film playing in front of<br />

them. But the film they are watching is never actually shown —<br />

it’s alluded to only via snippets of dialogue and sound effects<br />

that transpire entirely offscreen. Playfully idiosyncratic and with<br />

a wry sense of humor, Nour Ouayda’s The Secret Garden fashions<br />

a sci-fi epic in a similar design to Kiarostami’s experiment;<br />

shooting in and around Beirut on what appears to be 16mm film,<br />

The Secret Garden recounts a takeover by plant-like alien<br />

invaders who are encroaching further and further into the city.<br />

But this surprisingly complicated, expansive scope is relayed<br />

only via voiceover narration while accompanied by otherwise<br />

staid documentary images. In other words, a fictional narrative<br />

and non-fiction images butt up against each other in a kind of<br />

amalgamation of the two modes, each informing but also<br />

contrasting the other (not unlike Ben Rivers’ Slow Action, come to<br />

think of it). In the case of The Secret Garden, Ouayda’s images<br />

consist of various plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers, some<br />

growing naturally in the landscape, some bursting through the<br />

concrete sidewalks and brick walls of the city, and still others<br />

potted and hanging from balconies and window sills. Natural light<br />

coupled with the fine film grain of the 16mm gives the patina of<br />

an aged home movie, like an unearthed relic from the<br />

1970s.<br />

Sectioned into eight chapters, the film charts the strange<br />

appearance of and the gradual accumulation of these<br />

11


A SPELL TO WARD OFF THE DARKNESS<br />

Ben Rivers & Ben Russell<br />

FESTIVAL COVERAGE<br />

“In spite of their stylistic idiosyncrasies, both filmmakers strive to reach beyond basic filmic semiology in search of a sort of<br />

transcendental “realism,” a synthesis of modern ethnography and materialist aesthetics — aesthetics that permit film’s physical<br />

attributes (grain, lens flares) their due import. Their collaborative feature, the experimental documentary A Spell to Ward of the<br />

Darkness, is a fascinating blend of their respective methods that simultaneously honors their individuality. The film’s meticulous<br />

three-part structure feels somewhat rigid and predetermined compared to the more exploratory nature of their other work, but<br />

things gradually open up as we follow a nameless character (Robert A.A. Lowe) as he hangs around a neo-hippie Estonian<br />

commune, trudges alone through some remote Finnish wilderness, and fronts a black metal band in a dark and dingy rock club in<br />

Oslo.” — DREW HUNT<br />

“never-before-seen” plants. Shots of vines emerging from drain<br />

pipes and canal walls reinforce the idea of a violent emergence,<br />

while the voiceover narration suggests the intonation of a<br />

breathless news report. “Chapter 2” introduces Camelia and<br />

Nahla, our ostensible protagonists (even though no human<br />

figures are ever seen during the film). But we do hear their<br />

voices via the narration, creating a kind of harmony between<br />

multiple commentators. According to that narration, the two<br />

women have discovered a box filled with notebooks and a map.<br />

One of the notebooks is titled “At the Edge of the City, a Garden,”<br />

and it contains sketches of all the plants that have 'infiltrated'<br />

the city. A woman’s voice reads excerpts from this mysterious<br />

document, which detail a series of extraordinary creatures and<br />

fauna that occupy a space beyond the city. All the while, images<br />

of plants continue to flash across the screen, a diverse array of<br />

nature footage creating an oddly immersive quality.<br />

Ouayda has a talent for casting the familiar as unfamiliar.<br />

Occasionally, as the narration builds to a dramatic beat,<br />

Ouaydawill violently shake the camera or increase the speed of<br />

the editing, rupturing the otherwise lulling quality of the<br />

recitation. Shots of nature eventually give way to a more urban<br />

milieu, broaching the idea that the plants are either being<br />

domesticated by humans or are silently waiting for a moment to<br />

strike. It's a lo-fi War of the Worlds, a fantasy epic conveyed via<br />

the simplest means. Critic Alex Fields has suggested some<br />

deeper readings than mere genre film pastiche — that Beruit is<br />

difficult to divorce from its context as a site of years-long civil<br />

war, and a palpable yearning for a return to beauty (the<br />

transformation of bomb impact craters into flower beds is a key<br />

part of Godard's Notre Musique, and the plight of Sarajevo feels<br />

pertinent here as well). There are hidden depths to this short<br />

film, a lovely and mysterious object that seeks beauty in the<br />

everyday. The world is wonderous, we simply have to look<br />

carefully, and, importantly, differently. — DANIEL GORMAN<br />

SOUVENIR D’ATHÈNES<br />

Jean-Claude Rousseau<br />

Jean-Claude Rousseau may be one of the best-kept secrets in<br />

world cinema. But fortunately, in recent years, the word seems to<br />

be getting out. Although he’s made a number of features, most<br />

prominently his 1995 film The Enclosed Valley and 2021’s A Floating<br />

World, he has been focused on short-form filmmaking for a<br />

while, producing work that operates within a recognizable<br />

vernacular but is at the same time wholly unique. His two films<br />

from last year, Welcome and The Tomb of Kafka, are simple<br />

interior studies that examine the light relationships between<br />

objects in a room and shifting conditions out the window. The<br />

films exhibit a certain kinship with North American structural<br />

film, especially the work of Ernie Gehr and Michael Snow. But<br />

Rousseau’s interest in the seductive aspects of European<br />

classicism also suggests a connection to the films of Jean-Marie<br />

Straub and Robert Beavers.<br />

Rousseau’s latest film, Souvenir d’Athènes, finds the filmmaker<br />

operating in a Straubian mode, but with decidedly Beaversesque<br />

fillips. In the first several shots, we see a young man seated on a<br />

rock, his head in his hands as he looks down. Perhaps he is<br />

reading a book. We see the Parthenon in the distance, imposing<br />

against a mostly clear blue sky. Rousseau provides a number of<br />

shots of the man on the rock, all taken from the same camera<br />

12


TWO RESERVOIRS<br />

An Interview with Léa Mysius<br />

In 2017, Léa Mysius premiered Ava at<br />

Cannes. Her exhilarating directorial debut was a vibrant coming of age<br />

tale, a showcase of filmic bravado presaging her arrival as a thrilling new<br />

cinematic voice. Since then, the French screenwriter/director's talents have been repeatedly called into action with notable<br />

screenwriting collaborations with André Téchiné (Farewell to the Night), Arnaud Desplechin (Oh Mercy!), Jacques Audiard (Paris, <strong>13</strong>th<br />

District), and Clarie Denis (Stars at Noon). Not content to be solely collecting co-writing credits with a who’s who of contemporary<br />

French cinema, Mysius was simultaneously hard at work on her sophomore film, and so her 2022 return to the Croisette featured both<br />

Stars at Noon, her collaboration with Claire Denis in the Main Competition, and The Five Devils, her long-awaited sophomore directorial<br />

effort at the Director’s Fortnight.<br />

The Five Devils is a spirited blend of themes, ideas, and influences, a nervy coming-of-age thriller about a young girl journeying across<br />

time to uncover a secret buried in her mother’s past. Much like Ava, her latest is yet again a showcase of adventurous screenwriting<br />

and confident direction. Now, on the eve of its 2023 U.S. theatrical release (Ava is finally available on Mubi as well), I connected with<br />

Mysius to probe deeper into the film’s dominant themes, its racial subcurrents, the influence of U.S. literature, and the her writing<br />

process, from collaborations with French auteurs to building out her own idiosyncratic worlds and visions.<br />

14


Thinking through your approach to Ava and then coming to<br />

The Five Devils, I was curious what, if anything, might have<br />

changed in the way that you were writing and<br />

conceptualizing these films?<br />

I'd say that whereas Ava was a much more linear film, a much<br />

sunnier film, mostly focused on this one character, [with] The<br />

Five Devils I wanted to find something a bit more complex and<br />

risky, drawing a gallery of characters, and I had a mosaic like<br />

construction of the many layers of both time and dramaturgy<br />

that fed into the script. So really, the film was a bit of a reaction<br />

to Ava.<br />

Does this require a different way of working, in that Ava had<br />

this free flow, whereas here we are seeing a much more<br />

orchestrated, controlled system of interconnected<br />

characters?<br />

I say both films were very controlled, on set at least. But I do<br />

think that with The Five Devils, because it's a much more complex<br />

story, there was a lot of work to do with camera movements for<br />

them. The mise en scène was much, much trickier because we<br />

had to keep it coherent because it was such an exploded<br />

construction, and that's why perhaps it looks like there was a lot<br />

more control in it. I should add that in contrast to Ava, Paul<br />

Gilhaume and myself, what we wanted was to create a lot of<br />

movement to keep the movement going throughout the film, and<br />

movement is very hard to control, so that's maybe perhaps why<br />

there's this sense that it is controlled.<br />

I saw this incredible quote of yours where you said: “My<br />

biggest satisfaction is when filmmakers start to believe they<br />

have written a scene themselves, even though it was me.” I<br />

was curious about the way that you work with some of these<br />

other French auteurs and how that writing differs in<br />

approach to when you're working within your world.<br />

It's a very, very different process. I'd say, I mean, it's the same<br />

job, but it works very differently. The closest I could describe it is<br />

like: I have two reservoirs, one of which is mine, and the other is<br />

for the other directors I write for. And when it's mine, I dig in and<br />

find my own obsessions, desires, my own source material, my<br />

own images, and I feel quite free with it. I don't need to explain it,<br />

I just go ahead and do it. Whereas the other one is very much<br />

the images and the source material of these other writers, and<br />

it's very much seeing the world through their eyes. Personally, I<br />

couldn't film what they're writing, if you see what I mean, and<br />

perhaps that's linked to this French concept of the auteur.<br />

I remember seeing a clip of Samouni Road and there was a<br />

scene in there where a girl covers her eyes and that opens<br />

up this animated world, and the second I saw that I<br />

immediately thought of Ava. Are there moments where there<br />

is this spillover between the two reservoirs?<br />

I mean, I'm not a robot, so there will be things that escape me,<br />

but I try not to put in what is “of me.” So for example, right now<br />

I'm writing something about a couple, and there will be images<br />

from my own bank that will translate into this film, but then<br />

ultimately it's the role of the director. It's up to the director<br />

whether or not to use them, but the barrier between the two is<br />

porous.<br />

Back to your world and your reservoir, you've mentioned that<br />

Vicky's obsession with sense has a link to your past in your<br />

childhood. Are there specific scents that you remember back<br />

from your childhood that have stuck with you from those<br />

days?<br />

Yeah, I'd say both sight and smell were very much senses that I<br />

really sought as a child. And I wonder if it's maybe because I grew<br />

up in the countryside [that] I had this desire to smell everything<br />

around me. And I do think as a sense it's quite maligned by<br />

humans, maybe because there's something a bit animalistic<br />

about it, in contrast to things like hearing, which we often<br />

associate with beautiful things like music. I've just had a<br />

daughter, for example, and I realize how we stimulate children by<br />

showing them images, visually or even orally. But, I, for example,<br />

try and get her to smell things. I want to develop that sense that<br />

we tend to not focus too much once we leave childhood behind.<br />

There's a condition that I find fascinating: synesthesia, when<br />

someone mixes those senses in their mind. So one particular<br />

smell will automatically trigger a color or a sound will trigger a<br />

color and vice versa.<br />

Vicky's sense of smell in her journey in understanding her<br />

15


mother takes up the bulk of the film. But there is another<br />

journey where Vicky is searching for a part of herself, and<br />

we see this idea of race playing into it where she is clinging<br />

to her [white] mother and perhaps pushing away from her<br />

[Black] father. And the racism she encounters contributes to<br />

it. You had previously mentioned the writing of James<br />

Baldwin and Maya Angelou influencing you, and I was curious<br />

to hear you elaborate a little bit more about your thoughts on<br />

that and how that their work inspired you.<br />

Yes, indeed. I mean, it wasn't just [James] Baldwin and Maya<br />

Angelou, but whilst I was writing the script, I was very much<br />

inspired by U.S. literature, even including Jim Harrison or<br />

[Jonathan] Franzen, and I wanted to see how I could use that<br />

inspiration without imposing very U.S.-specific concepts onto<br />

France that would seem completely artificial. It made me think,<br />

how do we talk about race in France, when it's less clear-cut than<br />

it is in the U.S. And in France, there is a lot of racism, but it's<br />

much more insidious, a bit like a poison, and I wanted to tackle it<br />

without making it very explicit, which tends to put people off and<br />

make them very defensive, and make them deny the reality by<br />

feeling that it's too much of a caricature.<br />

So I thought, right, what realistically would be a mixed race<br />

family in the countryside? I thought, well, it's unlikely they're<br />

going to be Americans, so chances are they're going to come<br />

from Senegal. I wanted it to be this family that actually is normal<br />

— there are mixed race families in the countryside in France,<br />

without denying that they also face racism. But instead of<br />

portraying it as very explicit, I wanted to show it more as an<br />

atmosphere, as an oppressive atmosphere, that imbues life in<br />

this village, and that's how I feel is the best way to translate the<br />

racism in France.<br />

I think this mirrors what you had accomplished in Ava, where<br />

there is the constant presence of fascism around the edges.<br />

I had read that you wanted to have your next film have a<br />

more political lean, and I’m curious whether you would make<br />

these politics, which have been in the background,<br />

percolating, if you’re interested in pushing them to the<br />

forefront in your next work?<br />

Yeah, I mean, I'm right in the middle of that process, and it keeps<br />

changing. And the political angle keeps coming back, and it<br />

scares me because it's now becoming a subject matter and I don't<br />

like working with subject matters. I like working with moments,<br />

with storylines, not subjects, and the question I’m grappling with<br />

is how to really talk about society without it becoming the<br />

subject of the film.<br />

To close us off, you ended The Five Devils with “Cuatro<br />

Vientos,” a gorgeous song about the wind coming in, and it<br />

has this mystical quality of equilibrium. Could you talk about<br />

that choice and how it tied into your thought process about<br />

where the film ends?<br />

Yeah, it was actually the DP Paul Gilhaume who found that<br />

specific song, and I think it perfectly embodies the happy open<br />

end that I wanted to have. Because initially there’s a lot of chaos,<br />

and I like the idea that eventually the chaos organizes itself and<br />

we find this balance, which then allows us to find freedom and<br />

love.<br />

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. — INTERVIEW<br />

CONDUCTED BY IGOR FISHMAN<br />

And to go even beyond that, the quest for Vicky to uncover this<br />

past is born out of the weight she carries of things unsaid, the<br />

things that remain unsaid, but not only inside her family, but<br />

within her community and, on a larger scale, her country.<br />

Because when we think of things that are unsaid in France, there<br />

are things like colonialism and racism that we deny, things we<br />

just don't speak openly of. So it's very much a way of linking<br />

those familial taboos with the village and at a larger scale the<br />

country.<br />

16


KICKING THE CANON<br />

UNKNOWN PLEASURES<br />

Jia Zhangke<br />

Since his breakout 1997 film Xiao Wu, Jia Zhangke has emerged as one of the most gifted artists chronicling life in 21st-century China.<br />

Three of his earliest films — Xiao Wu, 2000's Platform, and 2002's Unknown Pleasures, all of which were made outside China's studio<br />

system — form a loose, low-budget trilogy portraying life at the bottom in an emerging superpower. Jia didn't abandon that focus<br />

when he made the leap to bigger budgets and State approval — 20<strong>13</strong>'s A Touch of Sin, for instance, is also unflinching in its social<br />

criticism — but nevertheless, Unknown Pleasures especially captures the crushing ennui of the early 2000s era.<br />

The film follows three disaffected young people as they navigate life in the changing People's Republic. Unlike Platform — a sprawling,<br />

elliptical, and unwieldy reflection on the rapid social changes from the late 1970s to the early '90s — Jia’s succeeding film is a more<br />

concise and decidedly contemporary tale of alienated youth. Xiao Ji (Wu Qiong) is a reckless scoundrel who falls in love with Qiao Qiao<br />

(Zhao Tao), a singer, dancer, and sex worker who performs at promotional events put on by her gangster boyfriend (and pimp) Qiao<br />

San (Li Zhubin). Xiao Ji's best friend, Bin Bin (Zhao Wei Wei), meanwhile, struggles with depression caused by unemployment and the<br />

scorn of his ball-busting mother (Bai Ru), who is a follower of the Falun Gong church.<br />

Xiao Ji and Bin Bin spend most of their time haunting pool halls by day and drowning their depression in nightclubs by night. The loud<br />

techno music, which remixes iconic pieces of Americana such as Dick Dale's surf-rock spin on "Miserlou," signifies the encroaching<br />

Western influence which coincided with the increasing liberalization of China's markets, a development which culminated in the PRC<br />

joining the World Trade Organization. Jia roots Unknown Pleasures in the present by including contemporary news reports flickering<br />

across discolored, bulbous television sets — a group of textile factory workers are seen celebrating the announcement that the 2008<br />

Olympics will be held in Beijing — and a pervasive sense of internet-era detachment, exemplified by a character nonchalantly asking<br />

17


KICKING THE CANON<br />

if the Americans had invaded China again when she hears a loud<br />

explosion destroy the local textile factory.<br />

Arguably, Unknown Pleasures’ portrayal of late-capitalist malaise<br />

could be read, if not as explicitly Marxist, then at least as a<br />

left-wing, anti-capitalist critique of globalization. The nature of<br />

Jia's social criticism, however, is somewhat surprisingly far more<br />

conservative in character. "In Unknown Pleasures, young people<br />

lack discipline," said the filmmaker in the film's production notes.<br />

"They don't have any goals for the future. They refuse all<br />

constraints. They run their own lives and act independently. But<br />

their spirit is not as free." Indeed, the lives of his central trio are<br />

very much defined by the mass media that surrounds them, while<br />

Chinese culture has faded into insignificance. Their search for<br />

freedom has, ironically, presented them with more limitations —<br />

in the words of Neil Young: "And I know we should be free / But<br />

freedom's just a prison to me."<br />

In what is perhaps the film's most interesting aesthetic choice,<br />

Jia sets Unknown Pleasures in a crime-ridden, rubble-littered<br />

wasteland — heightened significantly from Platform's<br />

comparatively less seedy post-industrial setting — a backdrop<br />

that invokes a kind of post-apocalyptic reflection of the spiritual<br />

decay of post-Maoist China that Jia laments. The characters<br />

seek to escape their hopelessness through shallow<br />

hedonism that they mimic from the Western movies and TV<br />

shows that have recently become accessible to them. While<br />

sitting in a restaurant, Xiao Ji, eager to impress Qiao Qiao, tells<br />

her about his vague ambitions as an outlaw while making<br />

reference to Pulp Fiction's opening scene, quoting its dialogue<br />

and pointing his finger (mimicking a gun) at the other customers.<br />

Jia punctuates the scene with a rare moment of overt stylization,<br />

whipping the camera around in a blur to transition the scene to a<br />

nightclub.<br />

This stylization is remarkable because Yu Lik-wai's consumergrade<br />

digital cinematography otherwise radiates pure homemovie<br />

transience, imbuing the film with something more<br />

ephemeral — an object found and observed, rather than<br />

consumed. Unknown Pleasures' musings on the purgatory at the<br />

end of history recall Hou Hsiao-hsien's Millennium Mambo,<br />

released the year before, but Jia's vision of neoliberal<br />

Weltschmerz is a lot bleaker than Hou's. While Millennium Mambo's<br />

Vicky (Shu Qi) addresses the audience from the future of 2011,<br />

implying some form of resolution and development for the adrift<br />

young woman, Jia cuts his sparse narrative short with Bin Bin<br />

being made to sing for the cops who arrested him after a failed<br />

robbery attempt. The last glimpse the audience gets of him is<br />

standing in a police station — lost, humiliated, doomed to<br />

languish in purgatory forever. — FRED BARRETT<br />

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FILM REVIEWS<br />

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG<br />

THIEVES<br />

Jonathan M. Goldstein & John Francis Daley<br />

There is no winning in Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) — not really.<br />

You can reach the end of a campaign or defeat something very<br />

nasty, or reach the highest level in a book that tells you what the<br />

highest level could be, but if your friends wish to continue, then<br />

you’ll play on. Unlike other games, measurable skill matters not,<br />

and those who wish to boast of their achievements in any<br />

quantifiable vector will be instantly humbled. Nerds may love<br />

their numbers, but here is a nerd-game — an entire nerd<br />

universe, in fact — in which numbers merely represent fate, the<br />

true subject of the game, and cannot be harnessed outside of<br />

Machiavelli’s virtù to meet fortuna. Dutch historian Johan<br />

Huizinga wrote in his classic Homo Ludens that play is the human<br />

activity most generative to what we now call “culture,” and I’d<br />

argue that D&D fulfills the play role for humans who once relied<br />

upon myth, ritual, and war to satisfy the kind of game in which<br />

rules are erected in order to be stretched and broken — so long<br />

as it makes the game more playful. In Catholic Carnival, a fool<br />

king plays royalty to both mock power and justify it; in D&D, a<br />

player may play out any mythic character of their choosing, so<br />

long as the gods (their dungeon master) believe it to be that<br />

holiest of holy qualities: fun. Though fate decides a measly four<br />

on the twenty-sided dice roll, a deus ex machina appears,<br />

rescuing a naïve character from an early grave; or, though a<br />

veteran character is nearly a god, his attempts to destroy a new<br />

player are impossible, as this new player is the curious younger<br />

sibling of the DM, and the veteran is an asshole. In a world run by<br />

spreadsheets, data, and scientific certainty, it feels radical to<br />

return to that most beautiful aspect of being human — the<br />

imagination. This kind of play asks one to don a mask during a<br />

sacred dithyramb and pretend (or, perhaps, to finally understand)<br />

that the world is malleable.<br />

In other words, Dungeons and Dragons offers an alternative to<br />

those who’d demand the world be made into winners and losers<br />

— especially to those who believe they have the numbers to<br />

prove it. To take away this element of holy play is to rob D&D of<br />

its most powerful virtue. But myths must be made and money<br />

must be sought, hence the successful series of novels based in<br />

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FILM REVIEWS<br />

the Forgotten Realms (D&D’s catchall “world” for its stories and<br />

guidebooks) universe and the new film, Dungeons and Dragons:<br />

Honor Among Thieves. Reduced to a movie, D&D might merely<br />

seem like an ersatz version of Tolkien: quests, monsters,<br />

dragons, riches, and the other derivatives of high fantasy fiction<br />

that entered the nerd realm’s shared imagination in the 20th<br />

century. Honor Among Thieves is certainly that, though its sense<br />

of playfulness lifts it above our large pile of geek fandom<br />

detritus.<br />

The data analysts who comb through the audience surveys at<br />

major Hollywood studios must have a wealth of information on<br />

teenage boys’ preferred protagonists because, once again, the<br />

sarcastic, lovable asshole firmly plants himself in the middle of<br />

every scene such that no moment can go by without the<br />

teenagers’ beloved sarcasm. Thankfully, it’s Chris Pine this time,<br />

and his boyish smile and not-quite-perfect good looks at least<br />

make these quips believable. He plays Edgin, a human who tries<br />

to do good but succumbs to a life of thievery. After his<br />

one-last-heist goes awry, Edgin gathers a band of adventurers to<br />

rescue his daughter and defeat the power-hungry Forge<br />

Fitzwilliam (Hugh Grant), who may simply be a puppet for even<br />

more malevolent forces.<br />

If the narrative beats sound familiar, it’s because the script<br />

doesn’t try to fix anything that isn’t broken. Inside this hero’s<br />

journey narrative lies a series of scenes that either exposit the<br />

realm’s history (excused as “worldbuilding” in fantasy circles) or<br />

dazzle the audience with some pretty impressive Unreal Engine<br />

demos. The former is a somewhat necessary drag, but the latter,<br />

along with the action sequences, carry the film. Unlike a certain<br />

other franchise that likes to keep its productions quarantined to<br />

Atlanta warehouses, Honor Among Thieves was shot on location in<br />

Northern Ireland and Iceland, allowing the lush, varied<br />

landscapes (and a real volcano) to stand in for the Forgotten<br />

Realms. These are the lands that birthed the Poetic Edda and<br />

many other sources that would inspire Richard Wagner’s Der Ring<br />

des Nibelungen, Tolkien’s Silmarillion, and — subsequently —<br />

contemporary fantasy; so it’s nice to have a respectful nod to<br />

these roots before the CGI parades take the frame.<br />

Thankfully, most of the effects help rather than distract from the<br />

action. A speedy scene midway through the film follows Edgin’s<br />

druid teammate, Doric (Sophia Lillis), as she transforms into a<br />

series of animals to infiltrate a castle, spy on the bouncy Grant,<br />

and escape. The camera follows her in a seemingly unbroken<br />

shot as she flies through cracks as a fly, scampers across<br />

soldiers’ feet as a rat, tumbles through a chimney as a bird, and<br />

emerges out of a house as a cat, then a deer. Though the<br />

sequence is nearly entirely animated, the choice to animate this<br />

as a single shot elevates the tension of her escape, while also<br />

announcing a vote of confidence for the effects team in an<br />

effects-heavy movie. Like all entertainment for adolescent boys,<br />

this also features plenty of light beams and explosions, but here,<br />

at least, there’s clearly someone composing them.<br />

“In a way, the Satanic Panic<br />

of the 1980s and ‘90s<br />

surrounding D&D was right<br />

about one thing: it is literally<br />

a form of magic.<br />

Ultimately, Honor Among Thieves settles for a rote sword and<br />

sorcery journey with a bigger budget and a smaller vision than,<br />

say, Albert Pyun’s ‘80s work in similar territory. It stinks of Kevin<br />

Feige, given the shopworn screenplay, jokey “meta” asides that<br />

beat the audience to make fun of itself, and characters reduced<br />

to their roles. But without Disney’s bureaucracy fine-tuning every<br />

detail, directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daly are<br />

able to deliver the best possible version of the post-Feige<br />

formula. The action scenes are coherent (thanks in no small part<br />

to hiring action movie veteran Michelle Rodriguez to play the role<br />

of the barbarian Holga), audiences are not asked to have an<br />

advanced degree in the IP in order to have an emotional reaction<br />

to carefully timed cameos, and some of the jokes do land. It’s no<br />

Conan the Barbarian, nor is it even comparable to simply playing<br />

a nice D&D session with good friends, but Honor Among Thieves<br />

has a playfulness that its competitors lack.<br />

In a way, the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and ‘90s surrounding<br />

D&D was right about one thing: it is literally a form of magic.<br />

Despite its reputation for attracting socially-inept nerds, the<br />

game only really came alive if a player had a handle on both the<br />

real world and the world conjured within their heads. Huizinga’s<br />

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FILM REVIEWS<br />

Homo Ludens notes that religious rituals have always worked<br />

according to this logic of play, where improvisatory straddling<br />

between worlds (spiritual, mental, or metaphorical — depending<br />

on your perspective) caused real change in our physical realm.<br />

D&D allows its players to attune to this ancient, limitless play that<br />

grants them the basic yet radical power to imagine the world<br />

differently. At a time in which major studios promise no<br />

alternative to data-driven, audience-tested, demographicmarketed<br />

schlock, it’s a good power to have. — ZACH LEWIS<br />

DIRECTOR: Jonathan M. Goldstein & John Francis Daley; CAST:<br />

Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Regé-Jean Page, Sophia Lillis;<br />

DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount Pictures; IN THEATERS: March 31;<br />

RUNTIME: 2 hr. 14 min.<br />

ENYS MEN<br />

Mark Jenkin<br />

In Mark Jenkin’s Enys Men, the unnamed protagonist (Mary<br />

Woodvine, in a role mysteriously dubbed “The Volunteer”) sets out<br />

on a mundane, quietly transfixing routine. Her daily tasks include<br />

observing a rare and unnamed cluster of flowers, transcribing<br />

her observations into a logbook, throwing a rock down an<br />

abandoned mineshaft, and rekindling a small petrol generator;<br />

her spare time she occupies with solitude, a book (Robert Allen<br />

and Edward Goldsmith’s A Blueprint for Survival), and a dwindling<br />

supply of tea. The setting, of course, is an equally solitudinous<br />

island off the Cornish coast in Celtic, Southwest England, and the<br />

year 1973, an era of labor strikes, global oil crisis, and domestic<br />

political conflict. These facts aren’t mere trivia: their import<br />

soon becomes clear as the film discloses — through its<br />

apparational and uneasy iconography — its broader<br />

historiographic relevance, inscribing local and national detail<br />

alike into an eerie and bedazzling (if sometimes bewildering)<br />

spectacle of folk horror.<br />

Eerie, perhaps, best describes the manifestations of the<br />

supernatural and fantastical in Enys Men. Following Jenkin’s<br />

outstanding feature debut, 2019’s Bait — a contemporary tale of<br />

tourism and gentrification set in a Cornish fishing village — Enys<br />

Men combs through the recesses of cultural memory, this time<br />

grafting its variegated images onto a canvas distanced from<br />

Bait’s B&W, working-class realism. Where Bait was tinged with the<br />

frequently unsaid — and thus spectral — implications of its<br />

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FILM REVIEWS<br />

ambiguous, lo-fi narrative, Jenkin’s present invocation of<br />

Cornwall’s past ghosts acquires, especially when manifested atop<br />

a lone landscape of rock and withered foliage, a clarity that<br />

arrives ironically enough with the imposition of the uncanny.<br />

That is to say, the rhythm and tone of Enys Men are tempered by<br />

an opposition of order and disruption: order in the quotidian,<br />

almost studied patterns that constitute the Volunteer’s natural<br />

existence, and disruption in the margins of her narrative that<br />

quickly enter the forefront of her imagination and confront her<br />

shaky sense of self. Over a budding April spring, stretching into<br />

diurnal summer, the island’s untamed natural environs begin to<br />

exert a spiritual and even sensual pressure upon the Volunteer,<br />

with her background and psychology not so much explicated as<br />

they are increasingly refracted through a prism of persistent,<br />

oneiric symbolism.<br />

Time and space are made slippery on Stone Island — a direct<br />

translation from the eponymous Cornish habitat — as various<br />

anachronistic artifacts pop up, sometimes on the periphery,<br />

other times jutting into the screen as candidly as daylight. In one<br />

sequence, a man’s visage suddenly fills the frame, as<br />

counterpoint to the Volunteer’s weathered one; in several others,<br />

a young woman — her daughter? her younger self? — flits about<br />

the stony cottage, appearing to coexist with the Volunteer. These<br />

phantasmagoria, however, do not inflict shock or awe in the<br />

traditional sense. Their lasting power derives instead from what<br />

might be psychoanalytically termed Unheimlichkeit, an<br />

inexplicable foreignness amidst rustic, private territory which<br />

reverberates across shots and coalesces in blurry, otherworldly<br />

wonder. Observing the robust evolution of 1970s British horror,<br />

from which Enys Men no doubt draws inspiration, the late Mark<br />

Fisher wrote of eeriness as that which is “constituted by a failure<br />

of absence or by a failure of presence,” a phenomenon doubly<br />

integrated into this film’s DNA. On one hand, presence refuses to<br />

show when we witness, in intimate detail, the Volunteer’s habits<br />

but not her motivations; who she is and what she does exactly<br />

are elided like ciphers from a long-buried canister. On the other<br />

hand, the solitary landscape gets disturbed, as if part of its<br />

design, by the traces of civilizational history, its class struggles<br />

and traumas come to life in the hallucinations the Volunteer<br />

experiences. Perhaps they aren’t hallucinations after all: the<br />

textured 16mm film seems to embed in them a tactility that<br />

foregrounds them in coterminous presence with her<br />

contemporary figure. Bal maidens serenade the Volunteer in<br />

repose; children frolic and merrily sing; the earthy, soot-ridden<br />

faces of long-dead miners pop up one inexplicable night, only to<br />

be then elided for the short-lived normalcy of day.<br />

This coterie of allusions and culturally specific references in<br />

Enys Men may be easily lost on most viewers, even those with<br />

some acquaintance with the seminal works of British horror. And<br />

the film’s stubborn abstractions threaten, at times, to withdraw<br />

from classical cinematic logic in pursuit of an elusive, insular<br />

wavelength. Despite this, the irresistible pull of the fragmented<br />

para-narrative holds our attention, thwarting ready-made<br />

preconceptions of the romanticized wilderness yet colluding<br />

perversely with our inherent fascination with horror to sustain<br />

attachment to them. Jenkin’s avant-garde sensibilities are<br />

neither gaudy nor academic, reveling instead in the poetically<br />

arcane: more than anything, his film resembles a palimpsest of<br />

discrete yet interwoven impressions, of the supernatural<br />

inflected with the political and vice versa. Atop the isle, a stone<br />

menhir presides over night and day with ominous significance,<br />

its jagged body a site of tradition and lore. Enys Men similarly<br />

stands proud and alone on solemn ground, overlooking an eerie,<br />

elaborate shore. — MORRIS YANG<br />

DIRECTOR: Mark Jenkin; CAST: Mary Woodvine, John Woodvine,<br />

Callum Mitchell; DISTRIBUTOR: NEON; IN THEATERS: March 31;<br />

RUNTIME: 1 hr. 31 min.<br />

KILL BOKSOON<br />

Byun Sung-hyun<br />

Byun Sung-hyun’s Kill Boksoon belongs to a time-honored (or less<br />

generously, clichéd) subgenre of the assassin movie: the kind in<br />

which the stoic, unbelievably badass contract killer has a<br />

relationship with a young ward. It’s easy to see the draw in telling<br />

stories like these, whether they be Leon: The Professional or<br />

recent fare like Choi Jae-hoon’s The Killer. Putting a child —<br />

usually a stranger — in the care of a hitman opens up the<br />

sociopathic protagonist to a character arc, turning them into an<br />

unlikely object of empathy and making it easy to root for<br />

bloodshed. Plus, at some point or another, the kid is put in<br />

danger, giving the killer someone to save for a change. Emotional<br />

throughlines and stakes are established in one go.<br />

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FILM REVIEWS<br />

Kill Boksoon is, thankfully, a bit different from this usual<br />

blueprint. In lieu of the male assassin and his surrogate child, the<br />

film’s focus is on a mother and daughter. Gil Boksoon (Jeon<br />

Do-yeon), called Kill Boksoon by her colleagues, is a middle-aged<br />

murderer struggling to connect with her fifteen-year-old<br />

daughter, Jae-young (Kim Si-a). While her work life is definitely<br />

affecting her home life and vice versa, Boksoon’s struggles with<br />

her daughter never come off as the contrived plot device of an<br />

action movie, but instead reflect the everyday difficulties of<br />

being a single mother with a career. It just so happens that this<br />

career involves ultra-violent, stylish death-dealing.<br />

Boksoon does her killing for a company called MK, a clandestine<br />

operation in an ecosystem with other companies that, by and<br />

large, follow the rules set by MK. These rules keep killers in line<br />

and prevent those outside of the employ of companies from<br />

doing unsanctioned hits. It’s a little like the worldbuilding done in<br />

John Wick, but less flamboyant and far less detailed. Still, despite<br />

not being especially fleshed out, an awful lot of the film’s time<br />

seems spent on the minutiae of contract killing’s labor laws,<br />

rather than the film’s supposed mother-daughter core.<br />

That so many of the goings-on of Kill Boksoon feel like<br />

distractions is the film’s most frustrating flaw. While it’s<br />

refreshing that Jae-young is not put in danger simply for the<br />

sake of plot, the sustained separation of Boksoon’s domestic life<br />

and work leaves the film feeling unfocused and cluttered. There<br />

are essentially two separate plots, the one in which Boksoon<br />

decides she can’t follow through with a hit, earning the ire of MK,<br />

and the one in which Jae-young stabs a classmate who threatens<br />

to out her and her girlfriend to the entire school. Boksoon dealing<br />

with either situation is a solid enough foundation for its own<br />

movie, but they only tenuously come together here as Jae-young<br />

comes close to discovering what her mother does for work.<br />

Meanwhile, the film uses other characters, like Boksoon’s boss,<br />

and flashbacks to reflect themes of parental figures and<br />

generational trauma instead of fleshing out its central<br />

relationship. Whenever Boksoon doesn’t pick up a phone call<br />

from her daughter, it feels as though the filmmakers are also<br />

ignoring the call. The film even goes so far as to pair Boksoon<br />

with a young intern at her company, an obvious mirror for her<br />

daughter who can be put in all the lines of fire Jae-young is<br />

spared.<br />

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FILM REVIEWS<br />

Yet although it might be overstuffed, overlong, and unfocused,<br />

Kill Boksoon is rarely less than entertaining, all of its individual<br />

parts working as they should, even when they don’t come<br />

together. The action scenes are frenetic, brutal, and a lot of fun,<br />

directed with a style that doesn’t sacrifice their clarity. Both the<br />

choreography and the script possess a keen sense of levity that<br />

keeps the film from self-seriousness without ever tipping over<br />

into quip-a-minute slop. In the film’s opening fight scene,<br />

Boksoon’s yakuza opponent details the storied history of his<br />

four-centuries-old wakizashi blade, and Boksoon replies that the<br />

ax in her hand can be purchased on the cheap at Walmart.<br />

Elsewhere, a series of knives all find their way into the same<br />

unintended target in the middle of the film’s best action<br />

sequence, a fight scene that splits into two groups of<br />

combatants and cuts between them as they slam into opposite<br />

sides of the same wall. The myriad of littered pleasures means<br />

that, while Kill Boksoon doesn’t totally add up to the sum of its<br />

parts, most of those parts are worth it anyway. — CHRIS MELLO<br />

DIRECTOR: Byun Sung-hyun; CAST: Jeon Do-yeon, Sol<br />

Skyung-gu, Kim Si-a, Esom; DISTRIBUTOR: Netflix; STREAMING:<br />

March 31; RUNTIME: 2 hr. 17 min.<br />

A THOUSAND AND ONE<br />

A.V. Rockwell<br />

Once in a while, a debut film comes along that announces the<br />

arrival of a potentially major new talent. A.V. Rockwell’s<br />

freshmanfeature, the Teyana Taylor-starring A Thousand and One,<br />

possesses a sagacious maturity that’s immediately arresting. It’s<br />

clear Rockwell knows what the hell she’s doing behind the<br />

camera — and, in fact, she’s been doing it for a while. The rising<br />

Tisch-bred writer-director has already been heralded as a<br />

trenchant cinematic voice, confronting the complexities of race,<br />

personal identity, and systemic oppression in an array of short<br />

films. These thematic concerns carry into this feature-length<br />

offering, a heart-rending, subtly epic drama that balances its raw<br />

vision of urban struggle with an empathetically poetic<br />

exploration of the bonds that sustain the folks working within<br />

that hardship.<br />

The film opens with Inez (Teyana Taylor) shelter-hopping after a<br />

stint behind bars at Rikers. One day, she encounters Terry, the<br />

six-year-old son she lost contact with and who is now in the<br />

foster system. Recalling the early life turbulence she<br />

experienced in foster care and keen on cementing a single<br />

meaningful tie, Inez gets Terry to agree to living with her as she<br />

reconstructs her life, effectively kidnapping him. She<br />

successfully builds a stable situation for the two of them, their<br />

family expanding as the years pass and Terry grows into a<br />

swaggering, sensitive teenager. Yet the secret at the heart of<br />

their new life threatens to undo everything: Terry struggles,<br />

wearing the mask of a false identity, and Inez strains to keep it<br />

all together.<br />

Part of the appealing mystique of A Thousand and One is that it<br />

instantly feels like part of a larger canon. The lushly warm<br />

daytime shots of city life, comprising a number of the<br />

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FILM REVIEWS<br />

establishing montages, evokes the sizzling, sun-drenched<br />

neighborhood scenes throughout Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.<br />

The cooler hues and intimate close-ups found in darker, bleaker<br />

sequences are reminiscent of some of the compositions Barry<br />

Jenkins and his team achieved in Moonlight. Scenes in this film<br />

are often clipped, vignette-style, finding quiet elegance and<br />

dignity within dreary interiors. There’s a lyrical rhythm in the<br />

arrangement of bodies, who the camera is capturing and where<br />

and for how long, that harkens back to the bracing work of<br />

Charles Burnett. A Thousand and One is a modern-day Black story<br />

suffused with Black cinematic history. The film’s deliberate pace<br />

allows the viewer to appreciate the details, to scrutinize like<br />

they’re appraising a preserved artifact, one of unmistakable<br />

artistic integrity.<br />

A long-time multi-hyphenate, Teyana Taylor boasts some serious<br />

acting chops in the leading role. Inez brims with Taylor’s effusive<br />

spirit, her brazen attitude a sword protecting a softer, earnest<br />

side that has weathered years of pain. Her wit and noble nature<br />

warm the audience to her quickly, yet the most indelible scenes<br />

here are the ones where Inez is subdued or quietly coping with<br />

pain, her emotions closely guarded before bubbling to the<br />

surface (even a quiet scene of Inez munching on Cup Noodles<br />

proves subtly transfixing). Terry, on the other hand, is portrayed<br />

by three actors: Aaron Kingsley Adetola at 6, Aven Courtney at <strong>13</strong>,<br />

and Josiah Cross at 17. All perform admirably (as do most of the<br />

main cast in general, with a particular nod to William Catlett as<br />

Inez’s lover, Lucky). But Cross in particular is splendid, playing<br />

Terry with a charming bashfulness. At the climax, Inez and Terry<br />

launch into a devastating tête-à-tête, and Cross does more than<br />

hold his own, with bursts of palpable despair and hurt<br />

punctuating his crumbling, stolid façade.<br />

Early on, one disapproving character chastises Inez, saying, “You<br />

want to be taken serious, be from Harlem, not of Harlem.” It’s a<br />

loaded sentiment worth unpacking if one bothers to pause, but<br />

as soon as the line is delivered, the scene shifts. We get snippets<br />

here and there of talking heads and public figures discussing<br />

New York’s culture and political future, typically delivered via<br />

radio call-ins and television news broadcasts, more so to signal<br />

jumps in time than initiate any sustained discourse. Allusions to<br />

gentrification and police misconduct lurk at the periphery, but<br />

these ruinous forces of injustice get little further exploration and<br />

ultimately serve as textural details that authenticate Harlem’s<br />

tough reality. Later, the film juggles screen time between Inez<br />

and Terry, as the teen wrestles with what influences he’ll let<br />

inform his personal brand of masculinity. In a longer film, or a<br />

tighter one, more time could have been dedicated to their<br />

character journeys intersecting with the systems of power<br />

satisfied with boxing them in.<br />

It’s fair to say, then, that the polemic power of the film’s critiques<br />

leaves a little to be desired — this is a debut after all, and<br />

Rockwell’s script and story pacing have a few kinks to iron out.<br />

But it’s the emotional, psychodramatic intensity Rockwell and co.<br />

capture that makes A Thousand and One such a moving success.<br />

It’s a movie about people, possessing a humanist veracity many<br />

will connect with, and anchored by potentially career-making<br />

performances. Get in on the ground floor now — Rockwell has<br />

nowhere to go but up. — TRAVIS DESHONG<br />

DIRECTOR: A.V. Rockwell; CAST: Teyana Taylor, William Catlett,<br />

Aven Courtney; DISTRIBUTOR: Focus Features; IN THEATERS:<br />

March 31; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 57 min.<br />

RYE LANE<br />

Raine Allen-Miller<br />

On a personal note, Rye Lane couldn’t have come at a more<br />

significant time. I only recently moved away from South London,<br />

and have started to feel homesick for the exact places that Raine<br />

Allen-Miller’s debut feature film captures so lovingly. It’s not just<br />

that I’ve spent time in almost all of this movie’s locations, but that<br />

many of the most meaningful moments of the last few years of<br />

my life took place on these very streets of Peckham and Brixton:<br />

I found love and my closest friend, and I came to understand my<br />

gender dysphoria there. This intimacy makes it hard for me to<br />

imagine someone watching this movie and not feeling the same<br />

reverence for the faded Bovril sign just outside the Ritzy that I<br />

do. Allen-Miller clearly feels the same way — she moved the story<br />

from Camden, where it was set in the original version of Nathan<br />

Bryon and Tom Melia’s script.<br />

Allen-Miller’s love in Rye Lane is not just for these specific little<br />

landmarks though, but the life that teems all around them. The<br />

first shot of Rye Lane tracks across a line of bathroom stalls, a<br />

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The wide-angle lenses and candy-colored lights of Olan Collardy’s<br />

cinematography don’t paint everything in the same shade, but<br />

instead emphasize a brightness in every moment. When Dom is<br />

at his very lowest, sitting in the cinema alone after finding out<br />

his girlfriend is cheating on him, the light of the projector pours<br />

over his head; he’s plunked within one of those famous shots that<br />

so often romanticizes the movie-going experience. But this isn’t<br />

ironic, and it’s not a joke at his expense. In fact, it’s one of the<br />

movie’s most vibrant images, Collardy and Allen-Miller coaxing<br />

out all the conflicting feelings taking place within this scene and<br />

allowing them, like all the myriad colors, to share the same<br />

space. It’s at once tragic, pathetic, funny, and maybe the best<br />

thing to ever happen to Dom.<br />

If the third act of Rye Lane becomes a little predictable and the<br />

gears of the script move more obviously, it’s easy to forgive<br />

because the rom-com template here is really just a framework to<br />

house what Allen-Miller is most interested in. The heart of the<br />

movie has little to do with the way that Yas and Dom fall out, nor<br />

how they inevitably find their way back together, but rather it’s in<br />

the little moments between narrative beats where other people<br />

are captured moving through their everyday. The fact that most<br />

of Rye Lane takes place over a 24-hour span suggests that it’s<br />

showing only a fragment of life in this place; that the camera<br />

could easily pan and find countless other stories equally worth<br />

following. For those who have spent intimate time in Brixton and<br />

Peckham, seeing all of this unfold in the margins and peripheries<br />

couldn’t be more natural. But Allen-Miller engages with Rye Lane’s<br />

spaces with such palpable wonder that even those with less<br />

proximity and familiarity to its depictions are likely to be swept<br />

up in its gentle spell. — ESMÉ HOLDEN<br />

DIRECTOR: Raine Allen-Miller; CAST: David Jonsson, Vivian<br />

Oparah, Simon Manyonda; DISTRIBUTOR: Hulu; STREAMING:<br />

March 31; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 22 min.<br />

IN VIAGGIO<br />

Gianfranco Rosi<br />

Depicting larger-than-life subjects has always posed some<br />

representational challenges: inch the individual too perfectly into<br />

focus, and one runs the risk of hagiography, but impose too<br />

much critical distance, and it casts irrefutable doubt on their life<br />

and times at hand. With men and women of certain stature, two<br />

questions surface: how best to represent who they are and what<br />

they stand for, and where to start? Among our contemporary<br />

global polity, game-changing figures from government, business,<br />

tech, and the arts frequently inspire and perpetuate discourse;<br />

our attention, then, is most commonly bestowed upon these<br />

figures, whether vis-à-vis grander socio-political narratives or in<br />

and of themselves. One such figure we may sometimes overlook<br />

— but whose influence, or that of the institution he stands for, is<br />

arguably the longest-lasting and thus unparalleled — is the Pope.<br />

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, adopting the papal name Francis, is<br />

notable in several ways. He is the first Jesuit to hold this<br />

position, the first from the Americas (and the Southern<br />

Hemisphere), and the first to take his name from Francis of<br />

Assisi, the medieval Catholic friar and one of Italy’s patron saints.<br />

Pope Francis has also been distinguished by his comparatively<br />

progressive leanings, from his critiques of income inequality and<br />

climate change to his support for human and LGBTQ rights.<br />

All these attributes are given relatively short shrift in Gianfranco<br />

Rosi’s latest documentary, a quiet and observational portrait of<br />

the man almost exclusively culled from archival footage. In<br />

Viaggio, translated as “On Voyage,” is less an infographic of the<br />

Pope’s various stances on public policy than it is a work that<br />

seeks to document the subtle constructions and consequences<br />

of his persona. Running a lean 82 minutes, the film follows<br />

Francis on his many visits around the world, through continents<br />

stricken with natural disasters and man-made terrors, and<br />

through communities in social and spiritual crisis. Shots of the<br />

Pope on his compact white Popemobile — speeding past throngs<br />

of devotees — are interspersed with excerpts from his addresses<br />

to countries and clergymen alike: calling for solidarity amidst<br />

troubled times, Francis appears cognizant of the symbolic import<br />

his office holds, seeking to uphold a unifying presence both<br />

against deeply fractious issues and the consequent threat of<br />

Catholicism’s diminishing relevance.<br />

There’s a bracing honesty to In Viaggio, not quite derived from<br />

ironic distance or critical contrast, but inherent to Rosi’s stylistic<br />

choices. The typical position of the documentarian is that of<br />

exposition, of uncovering hidden truth; Rosi, consistent with his<br />

noteworthy past portraiture (Sacro GRA, Fire at Sea, etc.),<br />

reframes honesty as that which discloses starting from the<br />

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surface. No hidden cameras are revealed, no alternate and<br />

possibly conspiratorial accounts are engendered in the montage<br />

of Pope Francis as religious synecdoche, and whatever truth In<br />

Viaggio holds is left to the viewer’s discretion. Offering an<br />

excellent counterpoint to Wim Wenders’ 2018 documentary, Pope<br />

Francis: A Man of His Word, Rosi observes a more respectful and<br />

reserved position in contrast to Wenders’ almost reverential<br />

treatment of the Pope’s reformist character. Whether In Viaggio<br />

ultimately engenders hope or skepticism is, of course, hugely<br />

premised on one’s initial disposition to religion and ideology<br />

alike, and its perhaps unavoidable flaw comes in the Herculean<br />

ambitions of biography. To make a film about a singular<br />

individual whose pronouncements yield worldwide<br />

reverberations is challenging; to render it definite, delusional. But<br />

In Viaggio is instead rather modest — a modesty that may seem<br />

naïve to some, or be praiseworthy for others — and graceful,<br />

acknowledging Francis’ significant, benevolent presence without<br />

slipping into valorization. “I do not use doublespeak, it is always<br />

the same,” the Pope states in defense of his speech and sincerity<br />

without much delusion; In Viaggio is, indeed, better off with its<br />

honest, unobtrusive perspective. — MORRIS YANG<br />

DIRECTOR: Gianfranco Rosi; CAST: —; DISTRIBUTOR: Magnolia<br />

Pictures; IN THEATERS & STREAMING: March 31; RUNTIME: 1 hr.<br />

17 min.<br />

THE LINE<br />

Ursula Meier<br />

For years now, director Ursula Meier has been interested in<br />

boundaries and the reasons we cross them. Her debut feature<br />

Strong Shoulders (2003) is about a young track-and-field athlete<br />

whose drive for excellence becomes a dangerous obsession. Her<br />

absurdist comedy Home (2008) focuses on a family living nearby<br />

a disused four-lane highway and how their sense of place is<br />

destroyed once the road is opened. Sister (2012) examines the<br />

connections between family obligation and criminality, and the<br />

fact that love sometimes entails transgression. And her<br />

not-widely-seen true crime drama Diary of my Mind (2018) is<br />

about the distinction between word and deed, and how the<br />

movement from one to the other shifts our ideas about<br />

responsibility and blame.<br />

So in a certain respect, The Line is probably the film Meier has<br />

always been moving toward. Unfortunately, it is also her least<br />

creatively successful to date, a film that so aggressively<br />

literalizes its central metaphor that it removes the sense of<br />

latent threat that characterizes her best work. The titular line<br />

refers to a 100-meter restraining order imposed on Margaret<br />

(Stéphanie Blanchoud), a musician who has a problem with<br />

uncontrolled rage. In the film’s opening scene, which plays out in<br />

a kind of stylized, balletic slow-motion, Margaret is seen<br />

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FILM REVIEWS<br />

charging like a bull at her mother, Christina (Valeria Bruni<br />

Tedeschi), while her sisters, brother-in-law, and stepfather<br />

struggle in vain to hold her back. She manages to connect,<br />

smacking her mother who then falls onto a piano, hitting her<br />

head.<br />

The family home is a soft modern glass structure near the Alps,<br />

and once Margaret has been thrown out, we see her pounding on<br />

the windows to be let back in. These panes of glass are the<br />

artificial barriers between Margaret and her family, but once the<br />

restraining order is in place, the division is at once more abstract<br />

and more absolute, because it’s legally binding. In order to keep<br />

Margaret in her life, youngest sister Marion (Elli Spagnolo)<br />

measures out a 100-meter radius from the house and paints a<br />

blue circle across yards and streets, essentially making sure<br />

Margaret doesn’t violate her parole agreement. Meier organizes<br />

the entire film around this thick blue line, thereby separating<br />

public and private, legality and illegality, as well as inclusion or<br />

exclusion from the (literal) family circle.<br />

The Line never provides any backstory for Margaret’s violence.<br />

We just hear that she has always had a problem with fighting and<br />

physical outbursts, and any larger psychological ramifications or<br />

explanations of this history (for instance, whether Margaret may<br />

be mentally ill) are simply ignored. This is only the most obvious<br />

failure of The Line, since Meier’s fixation on the landscape and its<br />

bright-line barrier does all the conceptual heavy lifting for what<br />

becomes a fairly pedestrian family dramedy.<br />

The Line’s characterizations are stunted at the level of a sitcom,<br />

despite the fact that Meier’s tone suggests that we are supposed<br />

to be emotionally invested in the women’s frayed dynamics.<br />

Marion is a singer in a choir, and her burgeoning obsession with<br />

God and prayer is a personality tic that substitutes for a<br />

discernible personality. This is also the case for angry Margaret,<br />

sensible middle sister Louise (India Hair), and petty, narcissistic<br />

Christina. In fact, Bruni Tedeschi’s performance is rather jarring,<br />

in the sense that it strongly resembles Catherine O’Hara’s Moira<br />

Rose from Schitt’s Creek, but played totally straight. There are<br />

intimations of maternal cruelty and neglect, since Christina<br />

blames her children for ending her promising career as a concert<br />

pianist. When Margaret’s blow to the head renders her mother<br />

deaf in one ear, we once again see The Line literalizing its<br />

metaphors, ushering all subtlety out the arena.<br />

It might have seemed like a bold move for Meier to provide an in<br />

medias res snapshot of a toxic family environment, and so it’s<br />

possible that the decision not to flesh out any of the roiling<br />

emotional subtext was a strategy of some sort. But this omission<br />

clashes with The Line’s tendency to spell everything else out in<br />

24-point bold type. The net result is a sense that nothing much is<br />

really at stake, that Margaret’s fury and Christina’s selfishness are<br />

mere contrivances that allow Meier to establish her big, absurd<br />

idea: a blue circle in the snow that keeps Margaret physically at<br />

bay, even as her larger influence is broadcast over the line and<br />

into the family unit. Marion, meanwhile, continues to find herself<br />

(again, literally) at the end of her tether. It’s all<br />

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maddeningly simpleminded, and gives the impression that the<br />

very talented Meier has painted herself into a corner. — MICHAEL<br />

SICINSKI<br />

DIRECTOR: Ursula Meier; CAST: Stéphanie Blanchoud, Valeria<br />

Bruni Tedeschi, Dali Benssalah; DISTRIBUTOR: Strand Releasing;<br />

IN THEATERS: March 31; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 42 min.<br />

MURDER MYSTERY 2<br />

Jeremy Garelick<br />

The last time we saw Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston on<br />

screen together as Nick and Audrey Spitz, the mid-life,<br />

middle-class Brooklynites were caught up in a convoluted murder<br />

plot involving various archetypes of European aristocracy, played<br />

by a respectable cast of British thespians. Drawing from a script<br />

by Zodiac screenwriter James Vanderbilt originally intended as a<br />

vehicle for Charlize Theron (who remained on as executive<br />

producer for both films), the first Murder Mystery film, while still<br />

obviously a Netflix product, did a nice job walking the “action<br />

comedy” line, an obvious fit for Sandler’s sensibilities that made<br />

time for some decent setpieces and wasn’t totally sanitized. It<br />

also expressed a charming, self-reflexive awareness of its own<br />

audience (i.e., Netflix subscribers), their viewing habits, and their<br />

lifestyles, centering the action on a working class couple — a cop<br />

and a hair stylist — whose mutual obsessions with true crime and<br />

British mystery television shows allowed them to see angles of<br />

the mystery that their snobbish Euro counterparts overlook (sort<br />

of like a gentler Bitter Moon).<br />

Nick jumps at the opportunity to live large and blow off studying<br />

for his detective license exam. But as the film’s sequalized title<br />

suggests, another murder mystery awaits these two, as<br />

festivities are cut short when Maharajah is assassinated as the<br />

ceremony begins, providing the Spitzs a prime opportunity to flex<br />

their powers of deduction. But this is quickly undercut by the<br />

entrance of Mark Strong as a super detective who doubts their<br />

abilities and innocence.<br />

Murder Mystery 2 is mostly driven by fish-out-of-water gags and<br />

Hot Fuzz-type action genre parody, none of which is particularly<br />

fresh, but still comes to life thanks to Sandler and Aniston’s<br />

rapport, which exists comfortably between sitcom-ish, gendered<br />

debasement and sweet, mutual deprecation that keeps the<br />

proceedings away from the caustic cruelty that can occasionally<br />

get the better of a Happy Madison production. The game<br />

supporting cast helps, too (Jodie Turner-Smith especially,<br />

Mélanie Laurent somewhat), though it’s really Bazelli’s<br />

camerawork that puts the movie up and over, handily managing<br />

explosive action and pulling some vibrant images out of the<br />

film’s decadent wedding party scene. Something of a trifle,<br />

Murder Mystery 2 at least actually succeeds at entertaining and<br />

manages some solid, pleasant looking photography — perhaps<br />

not a tremendous feat, but a bit more than the majority of<br />

Hollywood blockbusters manage these days. It’s certainly not a<br />

movie likely to persist in the cultural memory, but is one clearly<br />

Murder Mystery 2 doesn’t bother to tweak any of this really — why<br />

should it after the first film’s record-setting opening weekend<br />

viewership? — and isn’t worse for it, the 89-minute runtime<br />

punchy enough to sustain another go-around with the likable,<br />

well-paired Aniston/Sandler, improved somewhat by tight,<br />

colorful (by Netflix standards), action-minded cinematography<br />

courtesy of Ferrara/Verbinski DP Bojan Bazelli. After successfully<br />

solving Terrence Stamp’s murder last time, the Spitzs have<br />

returned to Brooklyn to set up a private eye operation that fails<br />

to bring in much money or excite Nick as much as it did when<br />

they were on vacation. Invited to a lavish Indian wedding by Adeel<br />

Akhtar’s Maharajah character from the previous movie,<br />

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made by artists who care, and is enjoyable in the moment, which<br />

is no trifling feat. — M.G. MAILLOUX<br />

DIRECTOR: Jeremy Garelick; CAST: Adam Sandler, Jennifer<br />

Aniston, Mark Strong, Mélanie Laurent; DISTRIBUTOR: Netflix;<br />

STREAMING: March 31; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 30 min.<br />

SMOKING CAUSES COUGHING<br />

QUENTIN DUPIEUX<br />

“Reinventing the superhero genre often entails energizing it,<br />

usually with piled-on camp (as with Troma Entertainment’s The<br />

Toxic Avenger and, more recently, Marvel’s Deadpool) or pointed<br />

critique (as with Eric Kripke’s series The Boys). Typically, the<br />

assumption is that the genre needs reinventing because it’s stale,<br />

and staleness is a bad thing. But what of jettisoning staleness<br />

only to restore it? With neither gaudy bloodlust nor dramatic<br />

reversal, Quentin Dupieux’s “Avengers assemble!” moment<br />

collapses upon itself, and deliberately so. A loosely construed<br />

series of wacky vignettes, Smoking Causes Coughing is calibrated<br />

to an uncanny tonal wavelength… Think midnight hangout movie,<br />

with quasi-stoner philosophy to boot — it’s quite a hoot.”—<br />

MORRIS YANG<br />

DIRECTOR: Quentin Dupieux; CAST: Gilles Lellouche, Vincent<br />

Lacoste, Anaïs Demoustier; DISTRIBUTOR: Magnolia Pictures; IN<br />

THEATERS & STREAMING: March 31; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 20 min.<br />

TETRIS<br />

Jon S. Baird<br />

Narrative video games have been an appealing cash-grab for<br />

years now, but the recent phenomenon of The Last of Us has<br />

made game adaptations hot again. This critic’s personal favorite:<br />

Super Mario Bros. (1993), a bizarre bastard made with gleeful<br />

absurdity by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton (the team behind<br />

Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into the Future, perhaps the best<br />

made-for-television movie ever produced). It vexed fans because<br />

it had very little to do with the game, but the relish with which<br />

the directors conjure ridiculous images and borderline surreal<br />

scenarios offers the kind of playbook of video game adaptation<br />

from which filmmakers should take their inspiration. That, and a<br />

good cast — God Bob Hoskins as the plumber (with a crotchety<br />

weariness that belies that game character's ebullience) and<br />

Dennis Hopper as the draconian reptilian, boasting a legion of<br />

tiny-headed goons — makes all the difference.<br />

Tetris, written by Noah Pink and directed by Jon S. Baird, is not<br />

an adaptation of a narrative game, and since no studio would<br />

finance an avant-garde, Michael Snow-esque take on translating<br />

the game, we get something here like The Founder, but replete<br />

with some Scorsese sprinklings, a little Baz glitz, and all of it<br />

dressed in animated 8-bit graphics like garland. Even as a<br />

traditional historical drama, however, a film like this could have<br />

been an inspired idea if someone formally daring, some<br />

consummate craftsman with sui generis vision, had made it —<br />

just imagine Gaspar Noe's version of the variegated puzzle. At the<br />

very least, the film would have benefited from someone capable<br />

of incisive insight into the making and marketing of the game,<br />

interrogating the relationship between the creative and the<br />

corporate.<br />

The Tetris we’ve been given offers none of that. Still, the final<br />

product could have been worse, and that's often as good as these<br />

kinds of studio productions tend to be. Baird’s film is a<br />

competent, based-on-a-true-story bit of entertainment, but let’s<br />

indulge what could have been: The people who had the idea of<br />

making a movie out of a game about rearranging falling shapes<br />

really missed a golden opportunity — Dr. Mario! Picture it: instead<br />

of Tetris, we could have had a portly Italian with a bulbous head<br />

and robust mustache dishing out a panoply of pills that need to<br />

disappear somewhere. That could have been truly fun.<br />

The backstory of Tetris the game — from an embryonic<br />

entertainment flickering on a soviet programmer's boxy old<br />

screen to worldwide sensation making certain people, though not<br />

the Soviet programer, a lot of money — offers a fun narrative to<br />

work from and is delivered with breezy playfulness that offers<br />

diverting enough viewing. And Taron Egerton, as the hopeful<br />

dealer who sees the potential of the game and bets everything,<br />

proves once again that he is an enjoyably lively screen presence.<br />

But there's only so much about knavish businessmen getting fat<br />

off of someone else's creation — the dude who invented the<br />

game got $10,000, minus fees — that you can watch before going<br />

numb. This is a familiar story, dressed in its slightly particular<br />

details. The story of the business background of the game is far<br />

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less interesting than the story of its creation, and Baird’s film<br />

feels like it’s aiming for a snazzy Moneyball-type thing. That sense<br />

of apathy that plagues the film’s conception is what will<br />

ultimately register most with viewers — there's simply nothing to<br />

be excited about here. — GREG CWIK<br />

DIRECTOR: Jon S. Baird; CAST: Taron Egerton, Nikita Efremov,<br />

Toby Jones; DISTRIBUTOR: Apple TV+; STREAMING: March 31;<br />

RUNTIME: 1 hr. 58 min.<br />

THE INNOCENT<br />

Louis Garrel<br />

Three features into his career as director, and Louis Garrel’s<br />

vision remains unexpected and lively, channeled into decidedly<br />

comedic pieces that stand apart from the stylish melancholy<br />

associated with his father’s iconic film work. Existing in the same<br />

universe (though with minimal regard for continuity) and all<br />

focusing on Garrel’s own screen alter ego “Abel,” A Faithful Man,<br />

The Crusade, and now L’Innocent are written as contemporary<br />

parables, addressing current-day social dilemma and offering<br />

light moral critique through the bumblings and ignorance of their<br />

shared central character. Something of a Hulot for our times (and<br />

also kind of a Doinel), Abel’s proven to be a useful device for<br />

Garrel to interrogate both our current moment and himself, the<br />

self-interrogative nature of his unvain performance shielding the<br />

lessons in morality from sanctimony.<br />

Whereas A Faithful Man played out as a fidelity farce, and The<br />

Crusade contended with the climate crisis, Garrel turns his<br />

attention toward rehabilitation and forgiveness with his new<br />

caper-comedy L’Innocent. Marking the first film Garrel didn’t write<br />

alongside late novelist/screenwriting icon Jean-Claude Carriére,<br />

L’Innocent nevertheless bears his influence in its parodic,<br />

off-kilter approach to exploring morality, which is surprisingly,<br />

deftly woven into an archetypal crime narrative, presumably<br />

informed by co-writer Tanguy Viel, a French novelist who writes<br />

on such things. Quickly establishing a new reality for Abel — now<br />

a childless widow giving guided tours to grade schoolers at the<br />

local aquarium — the film simultaneously introduces his<br />

heretofore unseen mother, Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg), and the<br />

source of L'Innocent’s primary conflict. Accused by Abel of using<br />

the local penitentiary as a dating service, Sylvie is indeed on her<br />

fifth relationship with a soon-to-be free convict, armed robber<br />

Michel (Roschdy Zem), who she marries and goes into business<br />

with immediately uponrelease. Upset to no end by his mother’s<br />

choice of husband, the emotionally repressed, often petulant Abel<br />

starts clumsily stalking Michel, hoping to catch him falling back<br />

on old habits, but mostly just embarrassing himself and the<br />

crush/friend (Noémie Merlant) he’s enlisted in his amateur spy<br />

games.<br />

Playing out as a series of broad, hilarious setpieces (Garrel<br />

proving himself an adept comedian in just about every sense)<br />

that eventually merge into a more grounded heist movie,<br />

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FILM REVIEWS<br />

L’Innocent dodges expectations from beginning to end without<br />

devolving into incoherence. It’s a neat trick for a movie that deals<br />

heavily in big moral messages and genre archetype, but the<br />

cleanness with which Garrel executes his tonally complicated<br />

screenplay is undeniable, helped along by a talented cast tuned<br />

in to the film’s specific peculiarities. The rare contemporary<br />

movie that might actually be able to keep an audience<br />

off-balance while still engaging broadly, L’Innocent decidedly<br />

confirms Louis Garrel as a clever filmmaker capable of<br />

navigating between pop and arthouse sensibility, with no sign of<br />

strain. — M.G. MAILLOUX<br />

DIRECTOR: Louis Garrel; CAST: Louis Garrel, Noémie Merlant,<br />

Anouk Grinberg, Roschdy Zem; DISTRIBUTOR: Janus Films; IN<br />

THEATERS: March 17; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 40 min.<br />

WINNIE-THE-POOH: BLOOD AND HONEY<br />

Rhys Frake-Waterfield<br />

Let’s start with a little personal history: when this reviewer<br />

caught the live-action adaptation of Norman Bridwell’s<br />

endearing giant canine in 2021’s Clifford the Big Red Dog, he<br />

decried it in the harshest of terms as “vapid [...] soulless torture.”<br />

For context, the film was about its eponymous furry fella and the<br />

adorably oblivious family that took him in before<br />

he inflated to the size of a small truck; the stakes at hand were<br />

split, somewhat evenly, between familial dynamics<br />

(acclimatization to the stares, the discrimination, oh the<br />

household budget — wait — what even does he eat?) and global<br />

conspiratorial shenanigans (the lab coats after Clifford’s flesh<br />

and blood, very much for research purposes and maybe a smidge<br />

of profit here and there). Why Clifford the Big Red Dog proved<br />

anathemic was neither wholly the result of its cringeworthy<br />

antics nor its shoddy, uncanny animatronics. Rather, Walt<br />

Becker’s post-peak COVID defibrillation for cineplexes and their<br />

communal origins failed due to stark irrelevance: there was<br />

simply nothing to the film, not even its wink-wink wokeisms or<br />

fairytale truisms, to entice audiences beyond the immediacy of<br />

the scene, sometimes not even halfway past. Unless we count the<br />

toddlers-to-five-years range, but even then it wouldn’t be<br />

surprising if TikTok and the iPad have already indoctrinated them<br />

into a realm of irony and self-consciousness — markers of<br />

baseline social sentience.<br />

The reason this is personal news, and the reason why this<br />

unlucky (and unforgettable) memory has been dredged up, is<br />

because you can, apparently, do worse than vapid, soulless<br />

torture. Enter another franchise beloved by all: as the “bear of<br />

very little brain,” children’s classic, pre-war nostalgia,<br />

proto-Paddington, Xi Jinping, and psychoanalytic pasture, which<br />

have been its alternative denotations, Winnie-the-Pooh remains<br />

one of the more influential cultural icons of cartoons and<br />

childhood around the world. Created by the vivid imagination of<br />

one A.A. Milne, and soon copyrighted by the Disney empire, Pooh<br />

exudes an air of tranquility, of innocence not yet lost and still<br />

reflected in the bumbling denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood,<br />

representing an unexpectedly progressive take on mental health<br />

representation (all of Pooh’s neighbors, including the young<br />

human master Christopher Robin, could potentially be read as<br />

stand-ins for various disorders). Whether child or adult, boomer<br />

or zoomer, jaded hermit or suburban wine mom, you’ve probably<br />

come across some adaptation, T-shirt, or souvenir of the bear;<br />

there’s even a meme template featuring Pooh with different<br />

degrees of physical and intellectual sophistication.<br />

What Clifford and Pooh share, then, are two volatile ingredients in<br />

a recipe for disaster: the potential for live-action, and the<br />

ensuing fanfare that naturally springs from any announcements<br />

of the former sort. So when the lovable ursine entered America’s<br />

public domain on January 1 last year, who but an opportunistic,<br />

clout-chasing wannabe-director leapt at the chance to legally<br />

stamp his own brand on Milne’s legacy, and cook up a horror<br />

slasher while at it? To be very clear, there’s nothing ethically<br />

dubious about reappropriating public domain stuff, even if for<br />

arguably “distasteful” ends — little point arguing with the<br />

conservatives and moral police, who tend to base their premises<br />

on very different first principles. But there’s something quite<br />

questionable about cashing in on the attention deficits of<br />

hunger-starved tweens and older moviegoers alike, only to yield<br />

pointless, less than incompetent garbage. Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood<br />

and Honey, written, directed, and produced by the incoming Rhys<br />

Frake-Waterfield, is a nightmare true to its genre, only that its<br />

terrors are induced not by some changeling monstrosity, but by<br />

mind-boggling indifference to image and craft. Ostensibly a film<br />

about Pooh turned evil, it situates Milne’s lore in a contemporary<br />

alternate universe where he presumably never existed and<br />

Christopher Robin finally grew up to abandon his rural coterie.<br />

33


FILM REVIEWS<br />

With their caretaker off to college, Pooh et al. — hereby<br />

reimagined as anthropomorphic, originally savage creatures —<br />

are forced to brave the loss of human companionship, retreating<br />

into a winter of decrepitude and starvation where they mutually<br />

sacrifice the sullen Eeyore for food. The trauma of this act, or so<br />

the film goes, scars them into permanent silence and pushes<br />

them back to their feral roots, engendering severe hatred for all<br />

of civilization, adolescent dudes and chicks included.<br />

All of this makes up the film’s paltry opening minutes, rendered in<br />

somewhat decent animation. Had Blood and Honey kept that tone<br />

and quality up throughout the rest of its runtime, the result would<br />

have at least been bearable, even if a little lackadaisical. But<br />

Frake-Waterfield knows his audiences aren’t here for a long time,<br />

and not even for a particularly good time; they’re watching his<br />

film because someone told them to, because the single digits on<br />

Rotten Tomatoes bespeak a cinematic rite of passage, because<br />

they banned it in Hong Kong (Pooh’s murderous rampage<br />

probably too overt a metaphor for Beijing’s censors), or just<br />

because. And so Blood and Honey takes itself to its logical<br />

conclusion: numbing bloodshed. Pooh and Piglet, infused with a<br />

thirst for human blood, kill and hack their way through the forest<br />

around their enclave, to which an adult Christopher Robin initially<br />

returns, followed by a gaggle of sorority girls looking to Airbnb,<br />

away from city-life stress. The dynamic duo murder and scalp his<br />

girlfriend, shower her blood on a whipped and shell-shocked<br />

Christopher, and exact similar patterns of revenge on anyone<br />

else within their radius of scent. They get knocked down from<br />

time to time, but it’s not clear if they’re somehow unassailable or<br />

if their victims are too utterly stupid to finish them off.<br />

The slasher formula, even when stripped of its accessories, isn’t<br />

indicative of boredom tout court. Blood and Honey, however, goes<br />

one step further and beneath the workings of many a<br />

mainstream kill-and-fill to strip and season all the wrong places.<br />

The team behind this titanic failure sand away any meaningful<br />

dialogue or motive, and pepper its frames with body counts. They<br />

invoke a brief subtext on harassment and stalking, only to reduce<br />

the women to dumber-than-dumb blondes upon sighting P&P.<br />

The murderous duo aren’t even feral creatures here, but two<br />

muscular men in droopy cosplay masks that — pardon the<br />

expression — resemble inbred furry Ghostfaces. When Piglet<br />

catches one of the girls, she kicks up a whole fuss, only to wade<br />

into the Airbnb’s indoor swimming pool and wait there. Like a<br />

literal NPC, she lingers, patiently allotting the next scene to<br />

another girl who’s incapacitated and screaming her brains out,<br />

and then waiting for Tusk Man to wade into the pool for company,<br />

before she then tries to tread her way out of the slog. She<br />

doesn’t, spoiler alert, and Piglet’s mallet blow to her head for once<br />

lends credence to the reactionary old guard who correlate<br />

violence with suicide, onscreen gore as manifestation of the<br />

desire to end it all. It is a bloody relief — albeit momentarily,<br />

because Frake-Waterfield has to justify his passion project and<br />

afford the two killers their spree quota. Blood and Honey just<br />

keeps going, and its superficially modest 84-minute runtime<br />

soon turns into a grotesque orgy of banality as the screaming<br />

and hammering ramp up to no foreseeable end. Oh fucking<br />

bother. — MORRIS YANG<br />

DIRECTOR: Rhys Frake-Waterfield; CAST: Craig David Dowsett,<br />

Chris Cordell, Amber Doig-Thorne; DISTRIBUTOR: Fathom Events;<br />

IN THEATERS & STREAMING: March 31; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 24 min.<br />

GIRAFFE<br />

Anna Sofie Hartmann<br />

?Hartmann favors largely static master shots, always maintaining<br />

a careful symmetry and allowing the camera to occasionally pan<br />

slowly left or right. The result is a handsome film somewhat<br />

lacking in formal variation, with shots stacking up in a dull,<br />

metronomic rhythm. Hartmann is obviously interested in the<br />

various threads of our modern, interconnected world and losing<br />

our links to the past, but her approach is too diffuse to really<br />

land. Bits of narrative information are unproductively obscured,<br />

revealed only in dribs and drabs… There are epistolary<br />

sequences of Dara reading aloud from a diary…<br />

pseudo-documentary interview scenes detailing the plight of the<br />

Polish workers, and glacially paced trips on the ferry, which<br />

Hartmann films like an alien spacecraft… There’s a clear<br />

imbalance found in how much better some of this works than<br />

other parts.” — DANIEL GORMAN<br />

DIRECTOR: Anna Sofie Hartmann; CAST: Lisa Loven Kongsli,<br />

Jakub Gierszał, Maren Eggert; DISTRIBUTOR: Film Movement;<br />

STREAMING: March 31; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 27 min.<br />

34


ALBUM REVIEWS<br />

KEED TALK TO ‘EM 2<br />

Lil Keed<br />

The final track off Lil Keed’s new<br />

posthumous album, Keed Talk to ‘Em 2, is a<br />

somber remembrance for the Atlanta<br />

rapper, who died at only 24 from a rare<br />

blood disease last year. During this fitting<br />

finale, up-and-coming Philly R&B singer<br />

Fridayy (who rose to semi-prominence in<br />

2022, due to guest appearances on Lil<br />

Baby and DJ Khaled albums) showily<br />

croons over mournful piano notes.<br />

Interjecting this is Keed himself, delivering<br />

a both off-the-cuff and declaratory<br />

statement of purpose for the album he<br />

was never able to complete. “This whole<br />

album 'bout me / Like this shit portray me,<br />

my growth / Keed Talk to 'Em 2 is 'bout the<br />

grind, man,” he confesses in an almost<br />

sheepish address. Indeed, KTTE2 does dip<br />

into some more personal territory lyrically<br />

on songs like the low-key “Think About It,”<br />

where he discusses the stroke that took<br />

his father’s life. But even there, Keed<br />

intersperses the intimate reflections with<br />

lines like “Yeah, she want my baby, but her<br />

face where I place my semen” and “I slimed<br />

my plug for the zaza 'cause it smellin' like<br />

farts.” Make no mistake, this is still a Keed<br />

(and by extension, Young Stoner Life)<br />

project: irreverent, attention-deficit trap<br />

music.<br />

by the sublime melodies of the original<br />

Keed Talk to ‘Em, the immaculate beats on<br />

Long Live Mexico, and the adventurous<br />

flow patterns of the aforementioned<br />

Cleveland 3, was stellar, and established a<br />

level of quality that this outing isn’t able<br />

to match. Nonetheless, clearly assembled<br />

with care by his family (his mother<br />

released a statement with its lead single,<br />

and his surviving young daughter<br />

Naychur is credited as executive<br />

producer), KTTE2 isn’t a tasteless cash<br />

grab like those mounted by the Pop<br />

Smoke and XXXTentacion estates after<br />

their untimely deaths. It’s a well-meaning<br />

and mostly effective attempt to capture<br />

what Keed did best — even if it pales in<br />

comparison to his past output and to the<br />

troves of leaked, first-rate material that<br />

have surfaced on SoundCloud.<br />

There are a few songs here that rank<br />

among Keed’s best work: the previously<br />

mentioned lead single, “Long Way to Go,”<br />

is defined by a potent mix of Keed’s<br />

kinetic, restless energy with a strain of<br />

wistfulness — his ad-libs feel particularly<br />

fraught with regret. The chorus’ “Got a<br />

long way to go, but I'm closer than ever”<br />

mantra is imbued with a sinking feeling<br />

that somehow he knew he was never<br />

going to reach the goals toward which<br />

he’s gesturing. On the more purely<br />

enjoyable end of the spectrum, “Betty<br />

Boop” — a collaboration with longtime<br />

Young Thug fiancée Karlae — is a<br />

mischievous, attitude-heavy tune,<br />

supported by excellent, groovy<br />

production by Bankroll Got It and Diego<br />

Ave. “All I Wanna Know” is also a standout,<br />

but it’s essentially a covert, virtuoso<br />

Keed also begins his soliloquy by framing<br />

the album as a redemption or comeback,<br />

which makes some sense on a commercial<br />

level, as his previous full-length, Trapped<br />

on Cleveland 3, was a disappointment if<br />

judged by streaming numbers. But it’s<br />

totally needless artistically: Keed’s prior<br />

run, characterized<br />

35


ALBUM REVIEWS<br />

Young Thug song with a 30-second (yet<br />

still very strong) Keed verse that arrives<br />

over two minutes into the track. A pair of<br />

string-backed cuts, “How Many” and “Lost<br />

My Trust,” further help keep things vital.<br />

The album is a bit rough around the edges.<br />

One has to wonder what its architects<br />

were thinking when they included a song<br />

called “Hitman,” given the grave charges<br />

currently embroiling YSL’s leader, and the<br />

instrumental on “Hottest” is, no joke, a<br />

warmed-over retread of Wheezy’s iconic<br />

work for Thug and Gunna’s 2019 smash<br />

“Hot,” horns and all. Then there’s the beat<br />

of the opening track, “Go See,” complete<br />

with Inclinations sample, which doesn’t<br />

really play to Keed’s strengths, though it<br />

does at least leave one wondering how he<br />

would’ve grown into making more versatile<br />

choices. As is, Keed Talk to ‘Em 2 is an<br />

unresolved hypothetical about what might<br />

have been; a good-enough eulogy for a<br />

talent gone far too soon. — CHARLES<br />

LYONS-BURT<br />

LABEL: YSL Records and 300<br />

Entertainment; RELEASE DATE: March 17<br />

MEMENTO MORI<br />

Depeche Mode<br />

In May 2022, Andy Fletcher — the keyboard<br />

player and one of the founding members<br />

of the prestigious British<br />

synth-pop/electronic rock group Depeche<br />

Mode — passed away after a tragic battle<br />

with aortic dissection, leaving the<br />

remaining duo of Dave Gahan and Martin<br />

Gore in deep shock and overwhelming<br />

grief. The last time the trio got together to<br />

record a studio album was in 2017,<br />

resulting in Spirit, the final record Depeche<br />

Mode released in their famous trio<br />

format. Fortunately perhaps, Fletcher’s<br />

saddening death didn’t stop Gahan and<br />

Gore's artistic collaboration, thus giving<br />

birth to Depeche Mode’s 15th studio<br />

record, Memento Mori, an album filled —<br />

as its title explicitly suggests — with the<br />

memory and experience of Fletcher’s<br />

passing. Opening with “My Cosmos Is<br />

Mine,” the duo quickly form and manifest<br />

the unique sonic universe of Memento<br />

Mori. While the outfit’s usual<br />

characteristics — Gahan’s distinctive and<br />

dramatic baritone vocals; Gore’s gradual,<br />

multilayered compositions — are vividly<br />

at play here, “My Cosmos Is Mine” easily<br />

exhibits a distinct aura of its own that<br />

encompasses the entire album from<br />

beginning to end. Deeper, darker, and<br />

possibly more pensive than ever,<br />

Memento Mori finds a seamless balance<br />

between confrontational expression and<br />

introspective impression, empowered by<br />

an individualistic motivation and<br />

confidence that’s no stranger to the<br />

group’s artistic work for roughly five<br />

decades: “Don’t play with my world / Don’t<br />

mess with my mind / Don’t question my<br />

spacetime / My cosmos is mine”.<br />

The fact that all of Memento Mori’s tracks<br />

exceed four minutes evinces a level of<br />

precision and purism, with Gore and<br />

Gahan handling everything from<br />

free-flowing songwriting to incisive<br />

musicianship and passionate vocals.<br />

While embracing the familiar sound and<br />

style of Depeche Mode, the duo are not<br />

averse to (re-)articulation and innovation.<br />

Be it an ‘80’s retro-reverberating ditty like<br />

“Wagging Tongue” (which tackles the<br />

notions of personal liberation and<br />

36


ALBUM REVIEWS<br />

self-reliance: “You won’t do well to silence<br />

me / With your words or wagging tongue /<br />

With your long tall tales to sorrow / Your<br />

song and to be sung / I won’t be offended”)<br />

or the outstanding banger of the album,<br />

“Ghosts Again” (proving how Depeche Mode<br />

is still capable of coming up with an<br />

instant eargasmic, slow-burn megahit), the<br />

collaborative spirit of Gore and Gahan’s<br />

work appears to be a result of sensorial,<br />

sonic architecture, simultaneously<br />

indicating the extent of Memento Mori’s<br />

delicately taut compositions, its integrity<br />

and chemistry while immersing in a<br />

seraphically posthumous atmosphere,<br />

filled with philosophically cosmological<br />

reveries (“Heaven’s dreaming / Thoughtless<br />

thoughts, my friends / We know we’ll be<br />

ghosts again”).Indeed, Memento Mori is<br />

both aesthetically and conceptually<br />

shaped by ecstatic verve and relaxed<br />

fluidity, organically synthesizing its catchy<br />

melodies with Depeche Mode’s constant<br />

experimentalism. After all, this is an album<br />

that seems (like its cover artwork)<br />

minimalistic, yet meticulously sketched<br />

with various degrees of light and shade,<br />

effectively interweaving its pieces with<br />

spiritual sublimity and intellectual<br />

elevation. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then,<br />

that after the hauntingly beautiful<br />

(anti-)love ballad, “Don’t Say You Love Me”<br />

(“You’ll be the killer / I’ll be the corpse /<br />

You’ll be the thriller / And I’ll be the drama,<br />

of course”), we’re confronted with the<br />

industrial/new-way/Bauhaus-y disco hit<br />

“My Favourite Stranger,” which epitomizes<br />

the album’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde quality:<br />

“My favorite stranger stands in my mirror /<br />

Puts words in my mouth / All broke and<br />

bitter.” Yet, as Gahan’s clear-cut baritone<br />

crooning is, as usual, responsible for<br />

providing an expressive personality<br />

alongside Gore’s juxtapositions of<br />

electronic bits, electric guitar riffs,<br />

magnificent keyboard interludes, and<br />

string orchestrations and arrangements,<br />

Gore’s languid tenor once again<br />

emphasizes the essential<br />

light-versus-dark motif in “Soul With Me,”<br />

the record’s centerpiece, which might<br />

give the listener a feeling of gradual<br />

spiritual transcendence: “I’m ready for the<br />

final pages / Kiss goodbye to all my earthly<br />

cages / I’m climbing up the golden stairs /<br />

Go sing it from the highest tower / From<br />

the morning / Till the midnight hour.”<br />

The same charcoal chiaroscuro of sound<br />

fills the second half of Memento Mori, the<br />

duo of Gahan and Gore never ceasing to<br />

experiment and extend the boundaries of<br />

their musicianship. This is especially<br />

evident with the surreal poetry of<br />

“Caroline’s Monkey,” which suggests some<br />

inspiration from ‘70s Pink Floyd and the<br />

abstractions present in a lot of German<br />

Krautrock: “Caroline’s monkey coos in her<br />

ear / Drives like a demon / Through<br />

Caroline’s tears.” Another song, “Before We<br />

Drown,” provides an implicit counterpoint<br />

to the earlier “Soul With Me”; instead of<br />

reaching for the sublime, though, it<br />

submerges the listener in the innermost<br />

depths of a darker reflection: “First we<br />

stand up, then we fall down / We have to<br />

move forward before we drown”. “People<br />

Are Good,” meanwhile, splits the<br />

difference between those two tones with<br />

a mildly dissonant, heavier-sounding New<br />

Wave techno song that also tries to<br />

remain optimistic about mankind: “Keep<br />

reminding myself / That people are good /<br />

And when they do bad things / They’re just<br />

hurting inside.” But it’s the last three<br />

songs on Memento Mori that manifest<br />

some of the album’s most emotionally<br />

powerful moments. On the romantically<br />

heart-wrenching “Always You,” Gahan’s<br />

vocals trend toward his falsetto range,<br />

singing, “And then there’s you / There’s<br />

always you / The light that leads me from<br />

the darkness,” aided by some of Gore’s<br />

dreamiest, trippiest keyboard<br />

accompaniment. “Never Let Me Go” aims<br />

to please the group’s hardcore fans,<br />

throwing back to the BDSM style and<br />

ambiance of an ‘80s underground<br />

industrial/goth club, while the symphonic<br />

closer “Speak to Me” conjures a perfect<br />

serenity through the unison of an<br />

elevating lightness and absorbing<br />

darkness, speaking to each other and<br />

arriving at a new meaning of faith. With<br />

Memento Mori, Depeche Mode have not<br />

only once again crafted their music at a<br />

high level and in a style that somehow<br />

feels outside of space and time, but this<br />

new and tragically diminished<br />

incarnation of the band has also made<br />

one of their best and most personal<br />

albums in the process. — AYEEN<br />

FOROOTAN<br />

LABEL: Mute Records; RELEASE DATE:<br />

March 24<br />

WITH LOVE FROM<br />

Aly & AJ<br />

The music on sister duo Aly & AJ’s last<br />

album, 2021’s A Touch of the Beat, ranged<br />

from fireplace-warm pop-rock<br />

(“Listen!!!”) to tense synthpop (“Lucky to<br />

Get Him”) to tender acoustic love songs<br />

(“Slow Dancing”). Compared to the two<br />

EPs that preceded it — which were full of<br />

glistening, explosive (and equally<br />

excellent!) synthpop — Beat marked a<br />

37


turn toward live instrumentation and<br />

patient singer-songwriter tendencies, a<br />

notable departure from the duo’s Disney<br />

days in the 2000s. The album still came<br />

packed with potent hooks and layered<br />

production, true to their pop roots, but<br />

there was a distinctly exploratory spirit to<br />

it, untamed by any expectations to simply<br />

keep making pop bangers. Even Beat’s<br />

opener, the five-minute-long soft rock of<br />

“Pretty Places,” opened the album like a<br />

horizon, predicated on the idea of<br />

escaping somewhere new — and although<br />

many of the other songs are upbeat and<br />

sprinkled with synth details, the bonus<br />

tracks that Aly & AJ released a year later<br />

seemed to conclude that album’s era on a<br />

note of mellow acoustic music.<br />

The sisters’ newest project, With Love<br />

From, is best appreciated when armed<br />

with the knowledge of where A Touch of<br />

the Beat left off. Compared to the latter,<br />

which mixed different tempos and flavors<br />

of alternative pop, With Love From is<br />

consistent in style and mood: it’s a full<br />

record’s worth of the most gentle, easy<br />

rock side of their discography, as if<br />

“Pretty Places” was spun off into a whole<br />

universe. Any of the individual songs<br />

would fit in on A Touch of the Beat (Yves<br />

Rothman executive produced both), but<br />

taken all together, they create a much<br />

more understated album experience. It’s<br />

not entirely country or rock or Americana,<br />

but the sonic signifiers bend gracefully in<br />

those directions, while still<br />

ALBUM REVIEWS<br />

lingering on the edge of the pop<br />

conversation.<br />

Tracks like “Tear the Night Up,” “Love You<br />

This Way,” and “Baby Lay Your Head<br />

Down” are upbeat — there’s fun to be had,<br />

even if the music is mellow — but<br />

accentuated with the kind of tasteful<br />

guitars and soft drums that can’t help but<br />

lend a song a certain contemplativeness.<br />

The slower cuts, meanwhile, are<br />

deliberate in their feelings: “Blue Dress” is<br />

delicate but emotionally assured (“I don’t<br />

care who you’ve been with / I just care that<br />

you show up at all”); “Way of Nature Way<br />

of Grace” announces its folksy intentions<br />

from the start and follows through; and<br />

closer “6 Months of<br />

Staring Into the Sun” confidently<br />

builds across its five minutes,<br />

operating almost like a bookend<br />

to “Pretty Places” in the way it<br />

sets a scene of cruising down<br />

the highway, destination<br />

unknown. With Love From is a<br />

record for small, cozy rooms —<br />

an evening album to match A<br />

Touch of the Beat’s breezy day.<br />

The record doesn’t surpass the<br />

duo’s previous work in terms of<br />

impressing as an overarching<br />

artistic statement, but the music<br />

remains effortlessly wonderful,<br />

punctuated with a sense of care<br />

and belief in companionship that<br />

promises to reveal its full power<br />

in the slow burn. We need<br />

albums for the quiet moments,<br />

too. — KAYLA BEARDSLEE<br />

LABEL: Aly & AJ Music LLC;<br />

RELEASE DATE: March 15<br />

38


Photo Credits:<br />

Cover - Aidan Monaghan; Page 1 - Travis Wilkerson/Cinéma du Réel; Page 3 - Sharon<br />

Lockhart/Cinéma du Réel; Page 7 - Sebastián Pinzón-Silva & Canela Reyes/Cinéma du Réel; Page 9<br />

- Paul Guilhaume; Page 11 - Nour Ouayda/Cinéma du Réel; Page <strong>13</strong> - Jean-Claude<br />

Rousseau/Cinéma du Réel; Page 14 - Paul Guilhaume; Page 17, 18 - New Yorker Films; Page 19 -<br />

Paramount Pictures/eOne; Page 21 - NEON; Page 23- Netflix; Page 24 - Aaron Ricketts/Focus<br />

Features; Page 26 - Searchlight Pictures; Page 28 - Magnolia Pictures; Page 29 - Strand<br />

Releasing; Page 30 - Scott Yamano/Netflix; Page 32 - Janus Films; Page 35 - YSL Records/300<br />

Entertainment; Page 36 - Mute Records; Page 38 - Stephen Ringer; Back Cover - Focus Features

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