Faults (Stearns, 2014) and Girlhood (Sciamma, 2014)

Two of the best films that I’ve seen from this year thus far. Faults is a wild ride. It’ll be no surprise if it makes viewers remember The Sound of My Voice. It’s one of those strange movies that has a lot of seemingly incongruent parts – is this a comedy? A thriller? Supernatural film? – but it somehow works.

I wasn’t expecting the opening: super funny. Its tone and lead, played beautifully by Leland Orser, remind me of Me and You and Everyone We Know, but it’s a rather different film.

That beginning, which includes Orsers Ansel Roth – purported authority on cults – trying to talk his way out of a $4.75 bill and eating ketchup-

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-is not only dourly funny, it also shows a strong sense of the still frame that director Riley Stearns exhibits throughout the film. There are a lot of those like the above: characters cut off. It gives a slightly odd feeling to things, like the character (read: the director) can’t be bothered with these “lesser” people. It works quite well.

Once the story gets moving, its hodgepodge of eccentric characters fades into the background and what emerges is a cat-and-mouse gave of psychological control between Roth and Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and for the middle hour the film is really quite strong. There’s plenty of eeriness throughout, including from the ultra-stoic performances from Claire’s concerned parents, played by Chris Ellis and Beth Grant.

**Very slight SPOILERS below**

The mise-en-scene here reminds me a little bit, actually of Breaking Bad, but without that show’s flashy camerawork. Its often high-key, or sourced by one really bright light (an old television set, frequently). The color scheme is drab with occasional splashes of color. Actors play their characters just slightly over-the-top in some cases, or in others, as in that of Jon Gries’ Terry, as almost parody.

But everything comes together in the end. For what is basically a two-hander set in a hotel room the film never flags, culminating in some suspenseful, unsettling set pieces, like this one, where Roth wakes up unexpectedly in front of a TV. There’s some horrific stuff going on in the background and Stearns’ staging of the scene is expert:

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It’s one of those “did it actually?” happen moments, and it really lingers in the mind, particularly after the build-up we’ve been treated to just prior.

Girlhood

Man, I’ll be hard-pressed to see a better film than Girlhood this year. Want to see a movie that’s bursting with energy, that loves it characters, and has a perfect harmony of image and music? Watch Celine Sciamma’s most recent one.

The film follows Marieme (aka Vic, played by Karidja Toure), a lower class girl in a French suburb who makes friends – a pseudo-gang – with other girls.

These are the best performances I’ve seen in a long time. They’re indescribable because they’re just so spot-on. They’re the kind of performances to be jealous of.

There is a narrative here, but Sciamma is mostly content with just following the group from vignette to vignette. We see them renting a hotel room (and having an amazing lip-sync dance party to Rihanna), getting in fights, playing miniature-golf.

Moments like the latter are great because they’re so filled with joy:

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After spending a lot of time with each girl, particularly Marieme, and seeing some of the rough conditions in which they live, a hole-in-one can mean a whole hell of a lot.

This is Marieme’s film, ultimately. She has the strongest arc as we track her from shy teen to tough girl, and Toure kills the performance. It’s flawless. A scene at the end with her boyfriend is a legitimate and non-exploitive tearjerker:

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This film is pretty close to pure cinema, which is not what I’m always after. There’s no artifice (or hidden artifice) of hitting marks in a well-blocked scene, and while Sciamma’s clearly a master behind the camera, this film doesn’t call out about its movement. It’s about the people and the place, pure and simple, and it really works.

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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One Response to Faults (Stearns, 2014) and Girlhood (Sciamma, 2014)

  1. Pingback: Best Films of 2015 | dcpfilm

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