InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 21.5

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THE ZONE OF INTEREST <strong>—</strong> 1<br />

THE SWEET EAST <strong>—</strong> 2<br />

IN OUR DAY <strong>—</strong> 3<br />

YOUTH (SPRING) <strong>—</strong> 5<br />

HOMECOMING <strong>—</strong> 7<br />

ABOUT DRY GRASSES <strong>—</strong> 8<br />


IN THE HOUSE <strong>—</strong> 9<br />

A SONG SUNG BLUE <strong>—</strong> 10<br />

KENNEDY <strong>—</strong> 11<br />

THE OTHER LAURENS <strong>—</strong> 12<br />


SHELL <strong>—</strong> 14<br />

AMA GLORIA <strong>—</strong> 16<br />

May 30, 2023<br />

<strong>Volume</strong> 1, <strong>Issue</strong> <strong>21.5</strong>



Jonathan Glazer<br />

The issue at the heart of Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest is<br />

one of the oldest in the cinema: how does one represent the<br />

unrepresentable? Loosely adapted from Martin Amis’ novel of the<br />

same name, and set in 1942, the film is centered around the Höss<br />

household: a German family who live in a large, two-story house<br />

with tasteful, minimal decor, complete with a swimming pool, a<br />

greenhouse, and a flourishing garden. The house also happens to<br />

be located directly across from the Auschwitz death camp. The<br />

film’s conceptual hook, if it can be called that, is that the horrors<br />

of the Holocaust will be deliberately kept off-screen and only<br />

indirectly represented <strong>—</strong> no violence will be visually depicted<br />

within the frame. Instead, we will mainly observe as Rudolf Höss<br />

(Christian Friedel), a German SS officer and the camp’s<br />

commandant, goes about his job, while his wife, Hedwig (Sandra<br />

Hüller), keeps house and tends to the children. A visit from<br />

Hedwig’s mother, who marvels at how well her daughter has done<br />

for herself, drives the film’s conceit home: the slaughter of the<br />

Jews by the Nazi regime will be refracted through the Höss<br />

family’s blinkered, bourgeois privilege.<br />

Though somewhat specious in broad outline, this conceit is not,<br />

in itself, cause for suspicion. Of more concern, ultimately, is the<br />

fact that Glazer has a rather limited, thuddingly literal<br />

understanding of representation. In each and every one of his<br />

meticulously composed frames, he does little more than<br />

portentously accentuate the out-of-field, drawing attention to<br />

what lies just beyond the visible image. Thus, we will only ever<br />

see the smoke of the trains that periodically arrive at Auschwitz.<br />

A shot of Friedel in the camp will be angled upwards in such a<br />

way that we see only the blue sky above him, even as we hear<br />

screams and shooting all around. A child will play in his room,<br />

stop momentarily to look out a window when he hears a<br />

commotion outside, and then resume his game as before. With<br />

Under the Skin (2013), Glazer delivered a panoply of arresting,<br />

Kubrickian images that synced well with the film’s literally alien<br />

subject. In Zone of Interest, he does something similar, employing<br />

a range of visual effects that keep the Höss family at a chilly<br />

remove, as well as irruptions of imagery meant to signal stilldeeper,<br />

more unrepresentable layers of disquiet. But as there’s<br />

no natural place for free-floating abstraction à la Under the Skin,<br />

Glazer’s taste for portent here becomes wedded to a fairly<br />

simple, and indeed simplistic, treatment of off-screen space.<br />



The Zone of Interest modulates its approach in precisely one<br />

sequence, where Glazer ties an incipient narrative development<br />

<strong>—</strong> Rudolf informing Hedwig that he has been transferred and that<br />

they may have to move <strong>—</strong> to his usual formal assertiveness in a<br />

manner reminiscent of Alan Clarke. It’s the one scene where<br />

Glazer does something other than keep the Höss family at an<br />

alienating remove. Winner of this year’s Grand Prix, The Zone of<br />

Interest has already been <strong>—</strong> and will continue to be <strong>—</strong> praised for<br />

its unfailing control and precision; and such statements do stand<br />

to reason. But if Glazer does not step a foot wrong, it’s because<br />

he does not risk much to begin with. The film is, to be sure,<br />

formally and conceptually coherent, even airtight. But coherence<br />

is not the same thing as audacity, and with the arguable<br />

exception of the film’s final moments, which briefly venture into<br />

territory that recalls Sergei Loznitsa’s Austerlitz (2016), Glazer has<br />

made a film that, very much despite its subject, plays it safe. <strong>—</strong><br />



Sean Price Williams<br />

An easy bit of advice to give to any filmmaker who tries, whether<br />

with journalistic integrity or well-meaning folksy soapboxery, to<br />

make a film about our contemporary political moment: don’t. It’s<br />

easy enough advice to follow, and it frees the advice-ee from the<br />

label of cringe that can only come from the same culture that<br />

had initially welcomed, begged, for content of the now. Already,<br />

the subcultures of yesteryear have metastasized into something<br />

stranger and even more ephemeral in this, and the mere public<br />

naming of any new political group is enough to destroy it as if it<br />

were borne of a curse.<br />

The Sweet East, the debut feature of veteran cinematographer<br />

Sean Price Williams, does not follow this advice. Thankfully, there<br />

is no soapbox in sight. Instead, the characters representing our<br />

various political moments mold themselves to more ancient<br />

sources, like Shakespearean villeins or the many ghosts of<br />

history. They form an American landscape void of values and full<br />

of snake oil, traversed by normies whose curiosity could get<br />

them killed.<br />

The normie in question here is Lillian (Talia Ryder), whose<br />

anodyne class trip to Washington, D. C. immediately halts thanks<br />

to a Pizzagate conspirator’s viable threats. Lillian is whisked<br />

from her classmates by strangers modeled after antifa, who, like<br />

all the groups here, promise that they uniquely have Lillian’s best<br />

interests in mind until their values give way to more petty<br />

concerns. Key among these users and abusers of Lillian is Simon<br />



Rex’s fascist Edgar Allan Poe scholar, Lawrence, whose true<br />

danger lies beneath his veneer of cold, “trad” academia, even<br />

once barking at Lillian that one cannot just make certain claims<br />

without good scholarship. He brings her to New York City, where<br />

Lillian falls in with a filmmaking duo (Jeremy O. Harris and Ayo<br />

Edebiri) and the film’s lead actor (Jacob Elordi). The process<br />

repeats throughout the east coast as a road movie, an Odyssean<br />

journey, a riff on Alice in Wonderland, or perhaps an anti-Pilgrim’s<br />

Progress where confusion replaces spiritual development.<br />

Frontloading with tons of pop culture and cinephile miscellany<br />

and esoterica, the film could easily have lost itself in games of<br />

“spot the D. W. Griffith reference” here and “catch Nick Cave’s<br />

kid” there. Thankfully, each of these references take a backseat<br />

to the constantly nerve-wracking vibes each political group gives<br />

off. The promise of violence finally erupts in a shootout that<br />

plays as dramatic yet opts for visual gags befitting a Scary<br />

Movie sequel <strong>—</strong> a compliment. That’s the tone of Lillian’s (likely<br />

named for Griffith favorite Lillian Gish) journey: that these<br />

American weirdos are worth taking seriously, but not too<br />

seriously.<br />

Williams, as DP, opts for his usual ‘70s verité style of<br />

camerawork, switching from classical compositions to<br />

shallow-focus zooms during dramatic moments. There’s a<br />

particular sort of Kodak color grade that washes over the entire<br />

picture that’s reminiscent of high-grade stock footage from a<br />

bygone era, which, though never distracting, does hint that this<br />

may already be a world that’s long passed. The budget here isn’t<br />

quite big enough for the team to acquire the rights to a<br />

punk-ethos soundtrack, but Paul Grimstad’s score (complete with<br />

what sounds like a mouth harp during a rather appropriate<br />

scene) sets a mood of cascading tension as Lillian cleverly<br />

navigates her way out of danger.<br />

Though rapscallion film critic Nick Pinkerton, the screenwriter of<br />

The Sweet East, pens a rather cynical screed against the limited<br />

factional options of 21st-century American culture, there are<br />

nuances and caveats aplenty. Not all of his middle fingers carry<br />

the same stature: the Nazis here are clearly the worst and most<br />

violent compared to, say, the filmmakers or the raving Islamists,<br />

even as Rex’s Lawrence turns up the charm by admitting to<br />

“being afflicted with enough vainglory already,” defending the<br />

artistic devices in D. W. Griffith’s The Avenging Conscience<br />

(though perhaps loving the unlovable parts of Griffith’s past), and<br />

chiding Lillian for being “grossly reductive,” unbefitting of<br />

“scholarship” for her recollecting his labeling someone a Jew.<br />

That said, this is still not a film that would pedantically lay out<br />

the gradations of its characters’ morality, nor would it make<br />

make grandiose political harrumphs, not even “fuck it all.” The<br />

Sweet East treats America as a freak show where you can stop,<br />

move on, join it, love it, or hate it, but you can never go home. <strong>—</strong><br />


IN OUR DAY<br />

Hong Sang-soo<br />

Hong Sang-soo’s second film of 2023 <strong>—</strong> and 30 th overall in a<br />

27-year career <strong>—</strong> premieres just a few short months after in<br />

water at Berlinale. That film found Hong investigating the nature<br />

and process of making cinema, both in general and in his own<br />

idiosyncratic manner. It was a bit of an experiment, of course,<br />

being filmed, to varying degrees, out-of-focus <strong>—</strong> and ending on a<br />

note of unsettling ambiguity, as a director walks into the ocean<br />

(on camera, naturally) like James Mason in A Star Is Born. That<br />

ending essentially inverts the one from The Novelist’s Film, a 2021<br />

Hong festival entrant, which concludes with what appears to be<br />

a moment of pure love between a director and his star, Kim<br />

Min-hee (also Hong’s key collaborator for most of the last<br />

decade). Now, In Our Day continues Hong’s meditations on art,<br />

albeit with neither the potentially alienating effects of in water<br />

nor the direct and triumphant beauty of The Novelist’s Film.<br />

Instead, we find Hong in more conventional territory, with a split<br />

narrative about younger people asking older artists for advice,<br />

and not quite getting answers they find helpful.<br />

The first of the film’s narratives stars Kim as an actress who has<br />

returned to Korea after some time abroad and is staying with an<br />

old friend (a designer, or model, perhaps <strong>—</strong> or just someone with<br />

an impressive collection of shoes). After spending some quality<br />

time with the friend’s big fluffy cat named “Us” (later to be the<br />

subject of what is now this reviewer’s single favorite Hong zoom<br />

shot ever), Kim is visited by her younger cousin, who wants to<br />

venture into acting and solicits her for advice. Kim explains that<br />

acting, perhaps paradoxically, is about truth, personal inner truth<br />

<strong>—</strong> tapping into yourself with complete honesty and<br />



channeling that truth into performance. The cousin says she<br />

understands… but one has their doubts.<br />

The second narrative stars Gi Jubong (Hotel by the River,<br />

Introduction) as a renowned poet. A young film student is making<br />

a film about him, and he laments to her that he can no longer<br />

drink or smoke due to health concerns (much like Hong himself).<br />

They’re visited by a young man who, like Kim’s cousin, wants to<br />

go into acting. He wants the poet’s advice, though it’s not entirely<br />

clear why (we may surmise that it has something to do with the<br />

pretty documentarian, though she doesn’t seem to know who he<br />

is). The young man asks the old one vague questions (what is<br />

love, why make art, what is it all for, etc.) and gets truthful but<br />

perhaps poorly comprehended answers. The scene is<br />

reminiscent of the third film-within-a-film in Hong’s 2010<br />

masterpiece, Oki’s Movie, in which two film students ask their<br />

professor a variety of questions about life and art and take in his<br />

pithy, reasonably profound responses. One of the poet’s answers<br />

is essentially the same as one the professor in that film gave:<br />

when asked why he chose to pursue poetry, the poet explains<br />

that he doesn’t know, and more to the point, that he doesn’t know<br />

why he does anything; in Oki’s Movie, the professor claims “In life.<br />

. . of all the important things I do, there’s none I know the reason<br />

for. I don’t think there is.” This, in turn, echoes Hong’s<br />

recent comments at a New York retrospective of his work, as<br />

reported in The New Yorker: “The most precious thing in life is<br />

always something that is given to me. If I look back on my life,<br />

the most wonderful things were always given to me, free or<br />

unexpectedly. Never in life did I get something wonderful by<br />

trying to get it or with a strong intention.” Instead, as Hong has<br />

done in several films recently, the poet asserts a kind of<br />

existentialism: what is important is living in the moment, in truly<br />

seeing and experiencing what is in front of your face.<br />

So if we combine ideas central to these two stories, we might<br />

have something like Hong and Kim’s theory of art: radical<br />

personal honesty and emotional truth, combined with an<br />

openness to any possible experience of the world and of chance.<br />

These theories are put to the test in the second half of the film.<br />

The beloved cat Us disappears and his owner is distraught,<br />

crying and screaming in anguish. After walking the streets<br />

looking for him, she comes home and collapses in a heap on the<br />

floor, as Kim calmly tries to get her to relax and focus on the<br />

next step of the search. Song Sunmi’s performance, to this point<br />

in tune with Hong’s usual register of relaxed naturalism, becomes<br />

so demonstrative, the performance of her emotion so extreme<br />

(though essentially just lying still), that it pushes the bounds of<br />

believability. Is this the honesty Kim advised? Or is the<br />



scene effective despite the overplaying, belying Kim’s theory of<br />

acting? Similarly, the poet is faced with a choice. The young<br />

man’s questioning gives him a strong urge to drink (a point made<br />

by a quite funny intertitle; all the scenes are preceded by such<br />

titles, some of which describe what is to come, some of which<br />

explain inner thoughts that otherwise are too subtly expressed to<br />

be picked up on), and despite the documentarian’s concerns, the<br />

man goes out and gets some soju. Several bottles later, the poet<br />

introduces Rock-Paper-Scissors to the group as a drinking game,<br />

and proceeds to outdrink both kids. Those two eventually leave<br />

together, in a scene that could have come from any number of<br />

earlier Hong films (Oki’s Movie, certainly). But we, the audience <strong>—</strong><br />

and by extension, Hong, who’s much older now than when those<br />

films were made <strong>—</strong> stay with the poet, who sets up on his<br />

balcony, armed with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black, a pack of<br />

cigarettes, and what looks like a box of donuts or some other<br />

kind of heart-unhealthy snack. Because when your philosophy of<br />

life is built around the pleasures of the moment, on living each<br />

day in the moment in order to experience fully what it means to<br />

be alive, it’s really hard to convince yourself to quit smoking. <strong>—</strong><br />



Wang Bing<br />

Youth (Spring) arrives in the midst of something of an inflection<br />

point: The West's orientation toward China has shifted radically<br />

since Chinese<br />

documentary<br />

filmmaker Wang<br />

Bing’s last run of<br />

films, in the<br />

mid-2010s, and in<br />

light of that, the<br />

work will be<br />

received differently.<br />

Even more broadly,<br />

documentary<br />

cinema is in<br />

something of a<br />

state of crisis at<br />

the moment; it’s<br />

undoubtedly enjoying an elevated status, but also being<br />

swallowed into the gaping chasm of "content," at one extreme,<br />

while at the other end of the commercial spectrum, many<br />

prominent filmmakers have been noticeably struggling to<br />

reconcile the contradictions at the heart of the medium in fresh<br />

and compelling ways. Back to the China side of things: after<br />

three fruitful decades, the vitality of the Chinese Independent<br />

Documentary movement (also known as Chinese New<br />

Documentary) has more or less dissipated, as State censorship’s<br />

tightening has restricted expression and international audiences<br />

have started to lose interest in a Chinese documentary ethos<br />

that isn't vociferously anti-China. Wang's celebrated peers and<br />

forebears, like Wu Wenguang and Zhao Liang, have largely fallen<br />

by the wayside, talent undiminished but directing less and<br />

receiving much reduced attention for that work than they did a<br />

decade or two ago. Youth (Spring), then, arrives in the throes of<br />

the highest profile international bow of any auteur from the<br />

Chinese New Documentary cohort in many years.<br />

The salvo in a planned trilogy, Wang’s comeback is an<br />

observational portrait of the lives of young migratory workers in<br />

small garment factories near the medium sized city of Huzhou,<br />

in the relatively well-to-do eastern province of Zhejiang. It's a<br />

familiar subject for Wang, who covered similar ground both<br />

substantively and geographically in 2016's Bitter Money and 2017's<br />

exhausting concept piece 15 Hours (an unflinching depiction of<br />

the monotony of factory sewing that’s as long as its title says). In<br />



Youth (Spring), we’re introduced to a set of teens and<br />

twentysomethings who take up residence in various decaying<br />

industrial towns; we see them live out near every aspect of their<br />

day-to-day lives, from the most detached and impersonal<br />

moments to the charged and intimate ones. Close friends make<br />

jokes with each other, awkward first encounters with<br />

prospective partners occur, long-term couples debate their<br />

futures, bitter fights erupt, and in aimless moments they wander<br />

the streets. Community is incubated among our cast through<br />

living conditions of cramped, privacy-devoid dormitories filled<br />

with their colleagues. Daily activities move the youths through<br />

the space of dilapidated buildings, down messy streets, onto<br />

public transportation, into internet cafes, to patronize street<br />

food vendor stalls, and of course, land them in the workplace.<br />

Work dominates the lives of our subjects, as it does the runtime<br />

of this three-and-a-half hour film. Endless, repetitive mechanical<br />

toil, repeated so incessantly as to become second nature, is<br />

drilled down into the very core instincts of these young people.<br />

So often have they repeated these tasks that some of the<br />

studied shots of workers operating the sewing machines<br />

showcase what approaches robotic dexterity, speed, and<br />

precision. We see workplace conflict and negotiation with<br />

employers; while only a rung or two up the societal pecking<br />

order, the floor managers hold all the cards, and the youths have<br />

only barefaced tenacity on their side.<br />

The photography in Youth (Spring) is, as in other Wangs,<br />

handheld, opting for predictable meandering long takes. The<br />

camera is a character, acknowledged by those on screen; it<br />

responds to events in a way that illustrates the<br />

semi-participation of the documentarians (i.e., in scenes<br />

involving more abrasive behavior, the camera becomes sheepish<br />

and self-conscious about its act of intrusion). The setting is<br />

captured with geometrical directness in a way that obscures<br />

place, perhaps in an appeal to the universality of the lives<br />

depicted. The camera circles, round and round, through the<br />

same spaces, gradually building a sense of the textures of the<br />

subjects’ daily lives in shades of human interest and monotony.<br />

Duration tends to lend experiential weight to the more dreary<br />

and mundane observations. But Youth (Spring) also feels<br />

conceptually unmoored and fails to solve the fundamental<br />

editorial question of what gets in and what stays on the cutting<br />

room floor. The emotional highs feel distant, too; Wang grates<br />

against the limits of what a slow, observatory direct cinema can<br />

say. On balance, though, the film is still moving and deeply<br />

human <strong>—</strong> a depiction of ordinary people making the best of a<br />

hard lot in life, living in neither destitution nor with abundance.<br />

Finally, it ends with an ostensible teaser for what’s to come in<br />

the next installment of the trilogy: a handful of youths travel to<br />

their hometown village to gather for the Chinese New Year.<br />

It’s worth taking stock of Wang’s journey to this moment in his<br />

career. His over-nine-hour debut feature, Tie Xi Qu: West of the<br />

Tracks (2002), was a seminal moment for Chinese documentary<br />

culminating a decade of increasingly ambitious independent and<br />

outsider video works. With a unique visual language, one native<br />

to digital video, Wang created a revelatory encapsulation of a<br />

place, a social context, and a series of events completely alien to<br />

his viewers. He was an artist more than a documentarian, and<br />

West of the Tracks was immediately one of the greatest artworks<br />

of the new millennium. The rest of the decade saw Wang<br />

struggling to follow up this opus, in various ways <strong>—</strong> and to<br />

greatly varying degrees of success. Eventually, after his to-date<br />

only fictional feature, The Ditch (2010), Wang seemed to change<br />

tack. He resembled less a "great modern artist" than a figure at<br />

the vanguard of contemporary Chinese documentary as a genre,<br />

which flowered into a career renaissance for him as the decade<br />

progressed <strong>—</strong> aided, in part, by online file-sharing communities<br />

disseminating his works. As a documentarian, Wang still<br />

occasionally made vital films: Ta'ang and Dead Souls, in<br />

particular, cemented his witness to history. And then, a few<br />

years ago, came news of a highly anticipated feature following<br />

Nigerian immigrants to China, which has thus far failed to<br />

materialize, and is rumored to be subjected to the pressures of<br />

aforesaid censorship. In this context, Wang’s proper return with<br />

Youth (Spring) feels like more abdication: he’s retreating to the<br />

same subjects with no change in orientation, a softer<br />

sociopolitical touch, and less rigorous conceptual and aesthetic<br />

scaffolds. The hard, expressive DV-native visual language of his<br />

earlier works has completed its long transformation into<br />

nondescript amorphous HD. The likelihood of this abdication is<br />

buttressed further by his reported humble amazement at his<br />

inclusion among this year’s competition slate. Wang simply isn’t<br />

China's leading documentarian anymore, just as he abandoned<br />

his claim to high artistry. But one hopes that isn’t permanent. <strong>—</strong><br />





Catherine Corsini<br />

Two years ago, French director Catherine Corsini was in Cannes’<br />

Competition with The Divide, a film that used the deteriorating<br />

marriage of two well-heeled Parisian women as a frame of<br />

reference for considering the “Yellow Vest” protests of 2018.<br />

However well-intended Corsini’s cinematic activism may be, The<br />

Divide registered as an insufficient response to the French<br />

political climate, largely because of her choice of protagonists. It<br />

was as if Corsini understood the need to overcome her bourgeois<br />

point of view, but simply couldn’t do it. Homecoming is a small<br />

step in the right direction, but again Corsini organizes her<br />

protagonists’ complex reality through a blinkered upper-class<br />

perspective. The fact that Homecoming generally has more on its<br />

mind than did The Divide make the new film’s shortcomings that<br />

much more regrettable.<br />

Corsini once again works with Aissatou Diallo Sagna, the former<br />

medical worker whose first acting role was as a beleaguered<br />

nurse in The Divide. Here, she plays Kheìdidja, a<br />

French-Senegalese woman with two daughters, college-bound<br />

Jessica (Suzy Bemba) and 15-year-old troublemaker Farah<br />

(Esther Gohourou). In the opening moments of Homecoming, we<br />

see a flashback to Kheìdidja preparing to leave Corsica with<br />

hekids when she receives a phone call with tragic news. Her<br />

Corsican husband has just died in a car accident. In the present<br />

day, she and the kids are traveling back to Corsica for the first<br />

time since their departure, and Jessica and Farah hope to learn<br />

more about their late father. But this desire is complicated by a<br />

series of family secrets that Kheìdidja has never managed to<br />

address.<br />

Although Homecoming is shot in a rather uninflected realist<br />

mode, one immediately notices that once in Corsica, Kheìdidja<br />

and her girls are literally hard to see. The underlit<br />

cinematography allows them to almost disappear into the<br />

scenery. There has been a fairly extensive discourse regarding<br />

the chemistry and light sensitivity of Western image-making<br />

technologies, suggesting an ideological bias towards the<br />

accurate rendering of white skin. But one gets the sense that<br />

Corsini is intentionally cloaking her protagonists in twilight to<br />

suggest their marginality. Homecoming is steeped in conflicting<br />

signals regarding race, class, and ethnicity. But there’s an<br />

underlying conservatism at work. Perhaps without meaning to,<br />

Corsini suggests that despite these characters’ intersectional<br />



identities, and the changing face of Europe more broadly, they<br />

can never truly belong to larger society.<br />

As Kheìdidja explains, she never felt she belonged to her<br />

husband’s world, and this was exacerbated when her<br />

mother-in-law (Marie-Ange Geronimi) blames her for her son’s<br />

death. This inability to thrive in the white world is repeated when<br />

the family returns to Corsica. Jessica starts a relationship with<br />

Gaia (Lomane de Dietrich), the daughter of Kheìdidja’s wealthy<br />

employers, while Farah is antagonized, then befriended, by a<br />

casually racist local boy (Jean Michelangelini). Corsini creates a<br />

scenario wherein Kheìdidja, Jessica, and Farah are able to begin<br />

new phases in their lives, but in the end they all return to the<br />

family they know, the three of them against the world. Their<br />

flirtation with European whiteness is tragic, nearly deadly.<br />

Corsini seems to be attempting to examine the personal fallout<br />

from various historical forms of oppression: racism, colorism,<br />

classicism, and homophobia. However, simply touching on these<br />

issues is not the same as producing an analysis. Homecoming<br />

ends by curtailing cultural hybridity in favor of self-separation,<br />

as if her characters’ desires for something larger are little more<br />

than expressions of internalized colonial consciousness. In true<br />

bourgeois fashion, Corsini depicts a multiculturalism defined by<br />

tolerance and coexistence, which sounds fine until you realize<br />

what that actually entails. We only encounter one another in<br />

passing, and no one ever has to learn, grow, or change. <strong>—</strong><br />



Nuri Bilge Ceylan<br />

When first introduced in About Dry Grasses, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s<br />

latest feature, Samet (Deniz Celiloğlu), an art teacher, has been<br />

in the remote village of Icesu for four years. Posted there for<br />

compulsory civil service, he has been looking to leave since the<br />

moment he arrived <strong>—</strong> and by the end of the film, he will do so.<br />

Before the school year is out, though, he will first be involved in<br />

two overlapping dramas which constitute the bulk of the film’s<br />

197-minute runtime. In the first, Samet and his<br />

colleague-cum-roommate Kenan (Musab Ekı̇cı̇) are accused of<br />

inappropriate conduct by two eighth-grade students, and come<br />

close to losing their jobs. The situation is all the more surprising<br />

to Samet when he finds out that one of the accusers is his pet<br />

student Sevim (Ece Bağci), whose innocent crush on him<br />

evidently sours when she catches him reading a love letter she<br />

wrote, which was confiscated by another teacher. In the second,<br />

Samet and Kenan get involved in a love triangle with Nuray<br />

(Merve Dı̇zdar), a disabled fellow educator from a different<br />

school, who lost her leg during a recent bombing.<br />

Like Ceylan’s 2014 Palme d’Or-winning Winter Sleep, About Dry<br />

Grasses works primarily as a character study of an arrogant man<br />

desperately lacking in self-awareness, developed across lengthy,<br />

combative conversation scenes. The difference in About Dry<br />

Grasses is how these conversations unfold in relation to Sevim<br />

and Nuray, respectively. Sevim, who goes unseen for a long<br />

stretch following the initial accusation, becomes a kind of<br />

structuring absence, a void onto which Samet can project not<br />

just his anger at the situation, but also his more general<br />

dissatisfaction with his lot in life. Nuray, for her part, is able to<br />

directly confront Samet in conversation. The film’s centerpiece<br />

scene <strong>—</strong> possibly the longest in the film <strong>—</strong> comprises an<br />

intellectual face-off between the two, in which she challenges<br />

his somewhat cynical worldview with her own. This difference in<br />

treatment is reflected, too, in the dramatic structure. Samet’s<br />

unusually friendly relationship with Sevim is there from the film’s<br />

start <strong>—</strong> and though we see nothing more inappropriate than his<br />

giving her a compact mirror, we are not privy to how their<br />

relationship began and evolved. His interactions with Nuray, by<br />

contrast, are contained entirely within the film’s timeline, and we<br />

see his duplicity in dealing with both her and Kenan.<br />

While Ceylan may never make a film under three hours again,<br />

About Dry Grasses showcases his dramatic flair and control of<br />

pacing even better than Winter Sleep. What remains difficult to<br />

account for is the film’s shape and structure, particularly during<br />

the longest tête-à-têtes. Ceylan’s knack for dialogue and his<br />

consistent ability to elicit convincing performances from his<br />

actors is not to be undervalued. Indeed, watching About Dry<br />

Grasses, it occurred to me that Ceylan’s approach to revealing his<br />

characters’ histories, in uncovering the layers of their behavioral<br />

personalities, might be compared to that of Mike Leigh, except<br />

with logy dialogue and speech patterns instead of action. The<br />

comparison, though, only drives home how much more judicious<br />

Leigh’s use of structure is <strong>—</strong> this despite the usual critical focus<br />



on his reliance on improvisation. Following the centerpiece<br />

conversation between Samet and Nuray, they make to go to bed<br />

together, but before they do so we watch as Celiloğlu opens a<br />

door of Nuray’s apartment, the camera following him into the<br />

soundstage where the film is being shot. In a different film, this<br />

rupture would reverberate both forwards and backwards into the<br />

runtime, recontextualizing what we’ve seen, and shifting how we<br />

take what we will subsequently see. Here, though, things simply<br />

resume as before, as if no such break took place. Like most<br />

every scene in About Dry Grasses, the sequence is compelling,<br />

even thrilling in isolation. It’s the bigger picture that disappoints.<br />

<strong>—</strong> LAWRENCE GARCIA<br />


Paloma Sermon-Daï’<br />

Belgian director Paloma Sermon-Daï’s 2020 documentary film<br />

Petit Samedi profiled her own family, paying particular attention<br />

to her brother and his drug addiction. Her debut narrative<br />

feature, It’s Raining in the House, shifts focus, instead<br />

considering the way that children are forced to cope with a<br />

mother (Louise Manteau) who’s absent and unreliable for reasons<br />

that are never clearly articulated. Seventeen-year-old Purdey<br />

(Purdey Bloquiau) and her 15-year-old brother Mak (Makenzy<br />

Lombet) have typical sibling conflicts, such as Mak not keeping<br />

the house tidy or Purdey not answering Mak’s calls. But there is a<br />

firm bond between them, because essentially, they’re all each<br />

other has.<br />

Whether speaking with a real estate agent or a prospective<br />

employer, Purdey must continually emphasize that she will be<br />

eighteen “in just a few days,” because it’s up to her to see her<br />

family through until their mother deigns to return from wherever<br />

she may be. Purdey, and to a lesser extent Mak, being thrown<br />

headlong into an uncertain adulthood is the primary theme of It’s<br />

Raining in the House, which takes its title from a broken skylight<br />

above Purdey’s room, an otherwise major problem (in most lives)<br />

here depicted as just another lingering crisis. To its credit, the<br />

film mostly deemphasizes the various troubles the kids face,<br />

since they are fairly ordinary for this poor family, even in the<br />

best of times.<br />

In fact, Sermon-Daï gives greater significance to the<br />

interpersonal and psychological problems the siblings are<br />

grappling with even as they struggle to survive. Purdey must<br />

take a job as a hotel cleaner, putting her ambitions on hold. She<br />

wants to study nursing, and her judgmental, upper-middle-class<br />

“boyfriend” (Amine Hamidou) <strong>—</strong> who already keeps their<br />

relationship a secret <strong>—</strong> tells her she will amount to nothing and<br />

is not good enough for him. Mak, meanwhile, has just failed out<br />



of school, and spends the summer fencing stolen bikes with his<br />

slightly better-off friend Dono (Donovan Nizet). Although<br />

Sermon-Daï never spells it out, Mak’s anger issues may owe as<br />

much to anxiety about his sexual identity as they do to his<br />

mother’s indifference.<br />

Although It’s Raining in the House appears, stylistically, indebted<br />

to the Dardennes, Sermon-Daï’s approach is very different.<br />

Where the Belgian brothers’ narratives tend to be rather<br />

propulsive, It’s Raining in the House is languid, at times even a bit<br />

inert. The essentials of its story will call to mind other, better<br />

films, such as Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows or, perhaps<br />

more closely, Ursula Meier’s Sister. But where those films<br />

seemed intent on dramatizing their young characters’ plights as<br />

signs of egregious neglect, Sermon-Daï merely observes, as if to<br />

suggest that there’s nothing that surprising about kids left to<br />

fend for themselves. And sadly, that may be true. <strong>—</strong> MICHAEL<br />



Geng Zihan<br />

A delicate and bittersweet queer coming-of-age film, A Song<br />

Sung Blue is also, unfortunately, weighed down by all the<br />

predictable beats that befall its bildungsroman genre. Set in the<br />

early 2010s in Harbin, China, Geng Zihan’s debut feature follows<br />

fifteen-year-old Liu Xian (Zhou Meijun), who’s sent off to live with<br />

her estranged father<br />

after her mother<br />

takes a job in Africa.<br />

Xian is a child whose<br />

presence is a mere<br />

afterthought to her<br />

parents; in turn, she<br />

shrinks down within<br />

every space she<br />

occupies, reducing<br />

herself to silently<br />

watching the world<br />

from behind window<br />

sills as it moves on<br />

without her. Xian’s<br />

father is a<br />

photographer, and his studio is where Xian is forced to spend<br />

most of her time. It’s at the studio that Xian meets Mingmei<br />

(Huang Ziqi), the bold and assertive 18-year-old daughter of the<br />

receptionist with whom Xian’s father is having an affair.<br />

The photography studio offers an appropriate setting to highlight<br />

Xian’s growing (and largely unrequited) infatuation with Mingmei.<br />

Upon arriving at the studio, we’re introduced to Xian <strong>—</strong> who<br />

barely spares a glance for her father <strong>—</strong> gazing longingly at<br />

professional portraits of women. In these photographs, the<br />

women appear cheerful; they’re donned in garish colors that<br />

outshine Xian’s drab uniform (and stand out against this film’s<br />

predominantly melancholic blue palette). Yet every photograph<br />

also suggests the alluring pretense of appearances: Xian longs to<br />

be recognized by her parents, and this desire leads her to fall for<br />

a woman whose interest in Xian is as dead as the frozen frames<br />

plastered all over the studio. Not surprisingly, Mingmei also<br />

poses for portraits from time to time, thus bringing the cruel<br />

filmic metaphor of a lonely and unrequited love to fruition.<br />

While cinematographer Hao Jiayue creates a hazy and dreamlike<br />

atmosphere through which to explore Xian and Mingmei’s<br />

encounters, perfectly accentuating the fantastical and<br />

all-consuming nature of Xian’s one-sided obsession with the<br />

older Mingmei, at times Geng’s film seems to rely too heavily on<br />

style to buoy a stagnant narrative of desire. The wistfulness<br />

pervading every frame mirrors Xian’s passivity and self-defined<br />



smallness, especially noticeable in the scenes where Mingmei<br />

brings her on various dates with rich and married men. Even<br />

moments of Xian’s bold defiance <strong>—</strong> like when she initiates a kiss<br />

with Mingmei <strong>—</strong> are undercut by a lack of passion and<br />

introspection that characterizes the entire film.<br />

One of A Song Sung Blue’s strongest scenes comes when Xian<br />

casually mentions to Mingmei that the married men who abuse<br />

their wives won’t be afraid to likewise mistreat her. The familial<br />

dysfunction both of these women experience is a paramount<br />

determining factor in how they spend their adolescence: Xian<br />

retreats into herself while Mingmei lashes out. But A Song Sung<br />

Blue ultimately struggles to substantially elucidate these<br />

respective womens’ positions with any articulation of the<br />

emotional devastation wrought by an unrequited affair. This, in<br />

turn, renders Geng’s portrayal of queer desire as marginal as the<br />

dreamlike tangents here. And so, while A Song Sung Blue is a solid<br />

enough debut from Geng, it would have nonetheless benefited<br />

from being explicit in documenting the vibrancy that comes with<br />

queerness, letting its protagonist experience all the shades of<br />

blue that can accompany desire. <strong>—</strong> SHAR TAN<br />


Anurag Kashyap<br />

Though recent Palme d’Or wins for Parasite and Titane might<br />

point to a changing landscape, Cannes has never been a<br />

particularly genre-friendly festival. Most selections in this vein<br />

have either been the diverting projects of some already wellestablished<br />

auteurs, or the various, out-of-competition world<br />

premiere slots frequently given to American blockbusters. The<br />

introduction of a Midnight section, around a decade ago, should<br />

have been an olive branch to genre fans and a path for the<br />

festival to keep up with similar popular sidebars at Sundance<br />

and Toronto. But the paltry offerings have usually also been of<br />

lackluster quality. The section doesn’t hold a candle to that of its<br />

North American counterparts <strong>—</strong> and as such, the placement of<br />

Kennedy, the new film from Gangs of Wasseypur director Anurag<br />

Kashyap (whose films have played Director’s Fortnight in the<br />

past), feels less like categorization than damnation. And sure<br />

enough, that’s a warning that’s well worth heeding: Kennedy is<br />

hollow garbage, an overlong slog that manages the dubious feat<br />

of being lightweight and ponderous simultaneously.<br />



Set in Mumbai, against a resurgent wave of Covid-19 <strong>—</strong> an<br />

offhand reference to Dune places the action more precisely at<br />

the tale end of 2021 <strong>—</strong> Kennedy follows Uday Shetty (Rahul Bhat),<br />

an ex-cop who, having faked his death six years ago, now works<br />

for the police commissioner as a clandestine hitman under the<br />

film’s eponymous name. The bodies have piled up over the years,<br />

but Shetty is no closer to his goal of taking revenge on a<br />

gangster named Saleem; his mounting frustration is the primary<br />

motivator for the film’s action. There are small twists throughout,<br />

and new characters pop up to add wrinkles to the story, but for<br />

the most part, this is all Kennedy is: a simple revenge story<br />

starring an unsympathetic killer cop who never manages to be<br />

even slightly compelling.<br />

Were this some aesthetic treat of a brutal action flick, there<br />

might still be some entertainment value here. But Kashyap’s<br />

direction is unexceptional and largely stylized. The film’s opening<br />

briefly flirts with the signifiers of post-Tarantino cool <strong>—</strong> hip<br />

music, moody lighting, an old-school yellow title card that reads<br />

“Rahul Bhat Is Kennedy” <strong>—</strong> but soon drops the pretense in favor<br />

of being a by-the-numbers crime movie. Likewise, Shetty is not<br />

the sort of athletic hitman typical of action movies, but rather<br />

just a plodding killing machine. He’s good at murder and his taste<br />

for it is perhaps the only intriguing bit of personality he’s<br />

allowed. The role was originally written for Tamil megastar<br />

Vikram (real name: Kennedy John Victor), and while he might<br />

have brought something more to the character than Bhat<br />

manages here, there’s not much potential in this script to begin<br />

with.<br />

Kashyap’s attempts at pathos and social commentary frustrate<br />

even more. Shetty kills for fun and says as much in a flashback<br />

to his days on the force, but he’s haunted by his victims<br />

throughout. There is little to indicate remorse on his part, though<br />

the ghosts provide commentary in the form of overwrought<br />

philosophical questions about the nature of death and Shetty’s<br />

many sins. The back half of Kennedy is so leaden with this type<br />

of voiceover that it becomes hard not to try and tune it out <strong>—</strong><br />

much the same way that Shetty, who remains completely<br />

unchanged by the film’s end, clearly does. The only other space<br />

for the character to grow is in his interactions with his<br />

abandoned family, whom he watches via CCTV footage from afar,<br />

seemingly desperate for reconciliation. This subplot fares better<br />

than the question of conscience and allows for some of<br />

the only climactic narrative beats that work. Even this, however,<br />

can’t overcome the level of disinterest the film has invited<br />

elsewhere.<br />

From the soliloquies and music about police violence to the<br />

constant presence of Covid, it’s clear that Kashyap intends for<br />

Kennedy to say something about the state of contemporary<br />

India. But like the main character’s psychology, these statements<br />

are murky, confused, and playing second fiddle to the film’s<br />

cut-rate crime plot. Kennedy’s Mumbai is clearly a city in crisis,<br />

but what Kashyap has to say about it, if anything <strong>—</strong> beyond<br />

fatalist discontent <strong>—</strong> is as unclear as why he chose this turgid<br />

mess of a movie through which to express it. <strong>—</strong> CHRIS MELLO<br />


Claude Schmitz<br />

Belgian writer-director Claude Schmitz's third feature, The Other<br />

Laurens, is a dry-humor thriller with an existential neo-noir<br />

façade. Viewers expecting a tense, philosophical slow-burn akin<br />

to Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye will be surprised to find<br />

what could instead convincingly be described as a Coen brothers<br />

take on David Robert Mitchell’s cult A24 film Under the Silver Lake.<br />

The Other Laurens finds an archetypally down-and-out,<br />

Brussels-based private investigator named Gabriel Laurens<br />

(Olivier Rabourdin) living a life of Sisyphean monotony,<br />

investigating extramarital affairs. His mother is dying, and to<br />

her, he is practically dead; she regularly confuses him for his<br />

twin, François, an exorbitantly wealthy real estate developer<br />

from whom Gabriel is estranged. There is nobody else in Gabriel’s<br />

life <strong>—</strong> fewer, even, when his mother dies and his niece (Louise<br />

Leroy) arrives from Perpignan in the South of France with the<br />

news that François has died, too, apparently having driven his<br />

car off a cliff. This modest family reunion isn’t occasioned by<br />

mourning: Gabriel’s niece seeks assistance from Gabriel to<br />

investigate his brother’s death, and despite the air of nihilistic<br />

apathy with which Gabriel conducts himself, he’s soon swept<br />

away by a mystery seemingly both of no interest to him, and at<br />

many moments, of no real interest to the audience, either.<br />

Like many films before it, the identical twins at the center of The<br />

Other Laurens fall into the lineage of cinematic doubles,<br />

immediately bringing to mind David Cronenberg’s recently<br />



remade and series-ified Dead Ringers. Although Schmitz is<br />

unable to build on this tradition’s rich history meaningfully, he’s<br />

still able to at least brush against it in a way that’s dynamic and<br />

playful. As the film progresses, Gabriel increasingly dissolves into<br />

the identity of his twin; he wears his clothes, mimics his<br />

grooming, and at one juncture, even sleeps with his brother’s<br />

mistress. In a charming twist, even the viewer is left uncertain of<br />

which brother they’re watching <strong>—</strong> our confusion musically<br />

converging with that of the characters. This playfully leaves The<br />

Other Laurens’ audience with compelling philosophical questions,<br />

like whether people assume their identities or their identities<br />

assume them <strong>—</strong> even as the relatively simple nature of Schmitz’s<br />

film tends to collapse under the complexity of its own aspired<br />

wit.<br />

The Other Laurens is chock-full of compelling characters, ranging<br />

from a greedy, American wife to an ex-Marine, to a Spanish drug<br />

dealer, and even a geriatric, Harley-riding motorbike gang. These<br />

characters joltingly orbit a complex, albeit obscured world,<br />

without quite breaching its atmosphere. They are clumsily<br />

assembled paradoxes that grate in and out of<br />

scenes without friction, masses in constant movement with<br />

absolutely no emotional weight. Only some of their deficiencies,<br />

however, can be blamed on the awkward script. The quality of<br />

acting in The Other Laurens ranges from somewhat inspired <strong>—</strong><br />

first-time actor Louise Leroy deserves credit for buoying the<br />

film’s emotional depth <strong>—</strong> to downright terrible; during various<br />

monologue scenes, it appears as if the speaker is being repelled,<br />

if not repulsed, by the camera in front of them. This, alongside<br />

hurdling dialogue, nonexistent tension, a hodgepodge plot, and a<br />

Dadaist sense of causality <strong>—</strong> 9/11 is forcefully made a symbol of<br />

the dissolution of the brothers’ relationship <strong>—</strong> leaves The Other<br />

Laurens swimming against its own current.<br />

And still, the film manages to find an ambling sort of rhythm<br />

despite itself. To say it’s a success would be wrong; it just isn’t<br />

quite a failure. The rich visuals are legitimately beautiful,<br />

recalling Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, or fellow Belgian Lukas<br />

Dhont’s recent Close, while Thomas Turin’s pulsating electronic<br />

score equally enchants, sharing a similar sensibility with that of<br />

Dev Hynes’ work on Paul Schrader’s Master Gardener or Daniel<br />

Lopatin’s for Uncut Gems. Even the production design is<br />



excellent, creating a hyperreal, uncanny effect that simulates an<br />

atmosphere of mystery, surveillance, and discomfort. Despite<br />

poor writing and worse direction, everything that’s virtually<br />

inanimate at the periphery of The Other Laurens lends the film<br />

enough of a strong enough pulse to keep viewers watching till<br />

the end, whether or not their collective breaths are held by the<br />

non-suspense of the film’s flaccid mystery. <strong>—</strong> CONOR TRUAX<br />


Pham Thien An<br />

Newly christened Director’s Fortnight General Delegate Julien<br />

Rejl has expressed a desire to highlight new voices with his first<br />

programmed slate <strong>—</strong> not just by selecting filmmakers who are<br />

early in their careers, but also films still lacking sales<br />

representation. And it’s a gesture toward the success of this<br />

strategy that the 2023 Camera d’Or <strong>—</strong> awarded to the best first<br />

film premiering at Cannes overall <strong>—</strong> went to a work from this<br />

section: Pham Thien An’s Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell. Pham’s<br />

film begins with a long shot in which the focal point<br />

shifts four separate times. Starting on a soccer game, the<br />

camera eventually tracks a mascot (who had been motionless in<br />

the foreground) into an open air cafe, then settling on a group of<br />

three men discussing faith <strong>—</strong> one of whom is Thien (Lê Phong<br />

Vũ), the film's main character. Though this conversation lasts<br />

quite a while, Pham has one more camera move in store for us:<br />

soon outside the cafe it begins to rain, and then suddenly, a<br />

crash is heard off-camera, before we pan over to the aftermath<br />

of a motorcycle accident. As it turns out, Inside the Yellow Cocoon<br />

Shell is a film composed almost entirely of long takes like this<br />

one; it’s already earned comparisons to those from the likes of Bi<br />

Gan and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. But from the beginning,<br />

Pham’s film seems uniquely self-aware, intentionally<br />

foregrounding the qualities of the long-take school of<br />

filmmaking that tend to receive both the most praise and the<br />

harshest criticism.<br />

Though the plot of Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell revolves around<br />

Thien taking care of his nephew after a deadly motorcycle crash,<br />

it’s not the same crash as the one featured in the film’s first shot,<br />



as Thien won’t receive the call that his sister-in-law has died<br />

until it interrupts a massage later in the evening. After Thien<br />

picks up his nephew Dao at the hospital, the film cuts to what<br />

seems to be a non sequitur, with a man explaining the traditional<br />

meanings of various dishes at a wedding. Eventually, a still<br />

photographer enters the shot, and we hear a voice offscreen ask<br />

him to move as the camera shakes. The footage then pauses<br />

and rewinds <strong>—</strong> we realize we are seeing a screen capture of<br />

Thien’s work as a video editor. When Thien returns to Dao, he is<br />

still unable to explain to his nephew what has happened to his<br />

mother, and it’s here that Pham employs another fashionable<br />

flourish: the late title card drop. Though inserting a title card 30<br />

minutes into a film always offers a bit of a Brechtian shock, here<br />

it follows an even more arresting breach of the fourth wall.<br />

Because there are few to no cuts in each lengthy scene, almost<br />

every cut means a shift not only in space, but in time, increasing<br />

the gravity of each edit. In the case of the title card, the cut<br />

represents a significant elision, as it is immediately followed by<br />

a shot of Thien’s sister-in-law’s coffin <strong>—</strong> but viewers never see<br />

the moment in which Dao learns his mother has died.<br />

This formal inventiveness is consistent across the film’s runtime.<br />

Its longest take opens at a relative’s home in the village where<br />

Thien grew up. While Dao plays, the relative approaches Thien to<br />

discuss the cost of his sister-in-law’s funeral, agreeing to split it<br />

but also asks Thien to bring some money to Mr. Luu, who<br />

prepared the burial shroud and had refused payment. Thien hops<br />

on a motorbike, and the sudden mobility of the camera as it<br />

follows him will be immediately familiar to fans of the<br />

aforementioned Bi Gan’s Kaili Blues. But when Thien arrives at<br />

Mr. Luu’s house, the camera is positioned across the road. There<br />

appears to be a slow zoom on the window as Thien enters and<br />

home and sits with Mr. Luu, but when the former rises, in<br />

perhaps the film’s greatest formal surprise, the camera follows<br />

him, having somehow made it inside. Later, Thien is shown<br />

climbing a tower, reaching a broken down set of stairs and<br />

hoisting himself up onto the wall to continue. It lands as<br />

something of a joke, then, that Pham cuts to the top of a tower<br />

rather than following the ascent.<br />

These long shot escapades are intelligently utilized and<br />

sufficiently exciting to sustain even Cocoon Shell’s three-hour<br />

runtime, and though the film’s narrative isn’t quite as deft, there<br />

are still pleasures to be found beyond formal invention. The<br />

opening conversation about faith between Thien and his friends<br />

establishes the film’s core thematic concerns, and the film’s<br />

greatest emotional thread is found in Thien’s exploration of faith<br />

with his nephew. And in Cocoon Shell’s final hour, it becomes<br />

increasingly dreamy in nature, texturally and narratively, as<br />

Thien searches for his brother, and Dao’s absent father, Tam.<br />

The film’s final minutes ultimately combine the mystical with<br />

Pham’s manipulation of time, and though its conclusion doesn’t<br />

really offer any concrete answers regarding either faith broadly<br />

or Tam’s whereabouts more specifically, it does leave Thien in a<br />

most satisfying place. <strong>—</strong> JESSE CATHERINE WEBBER<br />


Marie Amachoukeli<br />

Cléo (Louise Mauroy-Panzani) is a storm that is hard to contain:<br />

though pure, she’s capable of so much darkness. And she’s six<br />

years old. Raised by her Cape Verdean nanny, Gloria (Ilça Moreno<br />

Zego), after her mother’s death from cancer, Cléo feels<br />

possessive of the woman. Though we only see the extent of their<br />

closeness later through the fantasy sequences of a child’s<br />

earliest memories, marked by someone who paid attention to<br />

her and whose affection was all hers, it’s evident early on that<br />

Gloria is more than just a stand-in for Cléo’s mother. When the<br />

young girl returns home for the summer and is given the chance<br />

to stay with Gloria, she does everything in her small-fisted power<br />

to make it happen, even if it means she will awaken to the parts<br />

of her nanny’s life that don’t revolve around her. Director Marie<br />

Amachoukeli previously won the Camera d’Or at Cannes for a<br />

trio-directed feature called Party Girl, a similarly veristic and<br />

human drama staged with amateur actors. With Ama Gloria, she<br />

continues to trust in her actors' ability, sticking close to their<br />

expressive faces and detailing frequent seismic emotional shifts,<br />

to tell a story of all the depths of a child’s scorned heart.<br />

A child’s love may be innocent, but the power this innocence<br />

holds is beyond control. There’s a fairly direct allegory for<br />

colonialism in the way Cléo vies for Gloria’s attention upon the<br />

latter returning home. Gloria’s son, César (Fredy Gomes Tavares),<br />

is still young, and resents that his mother’s attention has lain<br />

elsewhere for years. Cléo’s clear and elementary sense of<br />

morality holds Gloria at its center<strong>—</strong> for her, lying to Gloria is the<br />



worst thing she could do, and effectively constitutes betrayal.<br />

That Gloria isn’t fully attentive to Cléo outside of her job as nanny<br />

isn’t cruel or distant in itself; it’s just the truth about life, and how<br />

our existences can be whittled down by those we encounter to<br />

roles and figures. But Cléo isn’t old enough, or ready, to grasp<br />

that her guardian’s private life could ever be as important as her<br />

own, and she is ready to try anything to win<br />

that affection back. She’s six <strong>—</strong> her innocence exists precisely<br />

because she has only seen the world through her own sheltered<br />

eyes, and in those eyes, Gloria is hers. The older woman, whose<br />

homecoming presents the rekindling of an old love and a project<br />

in the form of a half-built hotel, cannot take the place of Cléo’s<br />

mother. But Cléo has yet to understand this.<br />

Ama Gloria yields a striking child performance; Cléo’s love for her<br />

caretaker is wrapped in idolatry and a need for power. She fights<br />

tooth and nail for love as young children do. Amachoukeli coaxes<br />

such a strong showing from the young actress in part because<br />

she understands that on screen power and complexity can often<br />

be rendered through vulnerability. The last of her former<br />

co-directing trio to release a solo feature <strong>—</strong> Claire Burger had<br />

Real Love in 2018, while Samuel Theis delivered Softie in 2021 <strong>—</strong><br />

Ama Gloria makes it clear that Party Girl’s touching amateur<br />

performances weren’t coincidental. Rather than bank on showy<br />

workmanship and sweeping melodrama <strong>—</strong> though the film does<br />

contain some animated sequences, the purpose of which takes a<br />

while to become beautifully clear <strong>—</strong> Ama Gloria rests on<br />

Mauroy-Panzani and Moreno Zego’s shoulders, their strikingly<br />

layered performances the kind that can only come from letting<br />

an actor, or two, simply breathe. <strong>—</strong> SARAH WILLIAMS<br />


Photo Credits:<br />

Cover - ddd; Page 1 - Cannes Film Festival; Page 2 - Marathon Films & Base 12; Page 4 - Cannes<br />

Film Festival; Page 5 - Gladys Glover/House on Fire/CS Production/ARTE France Cinéma/Les Films<br />

Fauves/Volya Films; Page 7 - CHAZ Productions; Page 9 - Nuri Bilge Ceylan; Page 10 - The Seventh<br />

Art Pictures; Page 11 - Zee Studios; Page 13 - Quinzaine des Cinéastes; Page 14 - JK Films and<br />

Potocol; Page 16 - Pyramide International; Back Cover - Gladys Glover/House on Fire/CS<br />

Production/ARTE France Cinéma/Les Films Fauves/Volya Films

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