A Few Sentences on a Lot of Films

As usual, playing catch up. I’ve recently moved to Prague, so I have some great Czech films to write about. In the meantime, here are some brief thoughts on a lot of others I’ve seen over the 8-10 months but haven’t had the chance to write about.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Ficarra, Riqua, 2016)

A friend asked me recently if I think most “big” directors, regardless of whether I like them or not, are good directors. I think in some way they are. My main reason: if you can bring a large group of people together towards the same vision – whether I personally like that vision or not – then you’re doing something impressive. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is, I think, an example of a film where not everyone comes together. It feels like so many different films at once. Those aren’t the only problems with it. Information is telegraphed: every time we cut away from Tina Fey something bad happens; and the ridiculous accents from Christopher Abbot and Alfred Molina – both amazing actors – which feel like they should be satire, but end up kind of offensive. Also: rough love interest subplot.

23 Paces to Baker Street (Hathaway, 1956)

A very obviously post-Rear Window film that suffers from how close it ends up to that Hitchcock movie. It was fun watching it on a plane and guessing what year it was made (clues included color, CinemaScope, a few natural-looking exteriors, Vera Miles, a violent knife scene): I guessed 1957.

Paterson (Jarmusch, 2016)

A solid entry for Jarmusch, though not my favorite. Things I love: an odd use of fades to black that feel both monotonous and pleasant at once; the weird twins thing that doesn’t particularly add to the plot but adds to the tone; a general feeling of unease, particularly at night; a lover’s quarrel at a bar that’s both realistic and hyperbolic at once. Things I didn’t love: a female lead who feels kind of tacked in and a bit flimsy. Sure, she’s the muse, but she’s a flighty, boring one.

It Comes at Night (Shults, 2017)

Man, I really wanted to love this film. It’s got great camera work (a second straight time for Shults), awesome central performances, a totally chilling dog scene, and a solid mood. But in the end it just didn’t land for me all the way. It felt rehashed, overly reliant on dream sequences, and not quite as suffused with dread as it (maybe) could have been. Still, this guy is a director.

Okja (Bong, 2017)

Another that I really wanted to love, from a director whose work I truly love. The good about Okja: wacky performances that somehow work (man I love Jake Gyllenhaal in this); a really crushing scene towards the end; a meaningful message played as absurdist satire that still hits its point; amazingly staged action scenes. The not so good about Okja: the satire gets tiresome; the plot gets predictable (though, admittedly, still affecting); the style gets too cartoonish. I wonder if this was influenced by Brazil.

Dear White People (Simien, 2014)

Staying on the satire train: a pretty funny and frighteningly accurate portrayal of modern college life. This is when satire really works. The style fluidly oscillates between over the top and realistic, and the ending has legs enough to warrant (justifiably so) a TV series.

Colossal (Vigalondo , 2017)

Another one that I wanted to love. Some small SPOILERS here. I really, really love Vigalondo’s first two films. But this one just completely missed for me. The clever nastiness of those first two is gone. Where to begin? Really boring or unbelievable characters. Terrible acting from one and another that I completely don’t buy. Even Oscar’s (Jason Sudeikis) psychotic-ness doesn’t totally jibe. Why does Anne Hathaway’s character have two realizations in a row?. And the end is illogical. I’m forgiving of logic in some sci-fi; or at least of no explanation. But she can’t hear him at the end, yet she still throws him. I get that she might not need to hear him, but the beat indicates that his line calling her a bitch is what ultimately incites her throw…doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t know. Maybe I missed something with that ending, but I was too pulled out of it long before that beat.

The Nice Guys (Black, 2016)

Feels like someone did a poor parody of a Shane Black film.

The Overnight (Brice, 2015)

Pretty fun, sometimes ridiculous, but ultimately oddly touching film about parenting and relationships. Laugh out loud moments are rare in film and count for a lot. This one has a few.

Train to Busan (Yeon, 2016)

Unbelievably fun zombie film that somehow keeps the stakes rising and the tension going. It’s shot so cleanly – not a knock, more awe.

Lions Love (…and Lies) (Varda, 1969)

Just post-French New Wave from the great Agnès Varda. This one is a dizzying collection of film-within-a-film. It’s a commentary on the state of film, of Hollywood, and of the end of the free love ’60s. I liked it quite a bit, but in spite of all that, it drags a bit towards the middle and feels long for its 110 minutes.

The Nobodies (Mesa, 2016)

Really well shot film that seems to be after some kind of punk realism, but sort of falls between the two and never hits as hard as it wants to. The film feels a bit limited in character and scope. Maybe that’s the budget. There’s a great scene between mother and adopted daughter that’s the highlight of the film.

Museum (Ohtomo, 2016)

A thriller that starts pretty standard and Se7en-like, and reaches beyond that in its second act and becomes something more. Fun and violent, apparently based on a Manga; its ending feels rushed.

The White World According to Daliborek (Klusák, 2017)

An interesting premise that ends up feeling totally unfilled and a bit self-righteous. If a white supremacist is your main character then don’t use silly shock cuts (hard cut to chopping wood with your hand!); don’t stage things obviously (a shot of the main character’s feet in the tub really bothered me for this reason); and don’t make the only comeuppance too little, too late, and from the mouth of the director.

Logan (Mangold, 2017)

A pretty gentle, yet still violent Wolverine film. Really well made. Well acted. Great first act. Strong second act. Pretty boring – but I understand, totally necessary – third act. Worth the watch.

Eyewitness (Yates, 1981)

Peter Yates, what have you done!? I wanted to make this its own blog post. This movie is so absurd and for so many reasons. Some unbelievably 80s/bad lines: “I’ll tell you right now it’s gonna be wonderful.” The whole “subtext” thing about buffing floors is so awkward and ridiculous. And played the way William Hurt plays it it’s even more ludicrous: a soft, nice guy…kind of. Maybe creepy. Also, some great lines: “I think when he was a kid Aldo must’ve wanted to be a suspect when he grew up.” A bad script, well blocked. A pretty unbelievable romance. The ending with her hand on his cheek is almost as bad as him cleaning off her knee. Unnecessarily convoluted plot, too

Theeb (Nowar, 2014)

A really nice road/adventure/reverse western film. There’s a great musical moment just pre-shoot out. The staging of how Theeb falls in the well is really well executed.

Cabaret Balkan (Paskaljevic, 1998)

A lot going on here. The lawlessness of wartime. Chaos and anarchy of ordinary citizens. The police barely have a role here. Kind of like a more violent, dystopic Night on Earth. I love the radio broadcasts of the war. One is of the US condemning the Bosnians!

 

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Maigret vot rouge (Grangier, 1963) and Les Cousins (Chabrol, 1959)

Gilles Grangier’s 1963 film from Georges Simenon’s novel features a pretty late-period Jean Gabin as Commissioner Maigret, on the trail of a few (fairly badly acting) Americans in France in the midst of a convoluted plot. I wonder if Truffaut liked Grangier when he wrote his “A Certain Trend of French Cinema.” This kind of feels like the Don Siegel of French filmmaking (though, for the record, Siegel is better): an unshowy, well-crafted thriller with a charismatic lead, shot in a more traditional way than its new wave peers.

While Grangier’s film is indeed overly complicated and leads to a pretty disappointing denouement it does have a great performance from Gabin, who feels worn, old, and plenty confident. Marcel Bozzuffi also gets an early appearance here; though he’s a side character his Torrence is calm and in charge, and Bozzuffi shows some of the screen presence that will come to the forefront later.

There’s a really amazing fight sequence where one of the Americans, Cicero (Michel Constantin, the only good one of the group), fights off a large group of French detectives.

It’s a really physical scene and Grangier uses Cicero’s imposing figure to his advantage. It’s well cut, fast, a little funny (the sand and the flip), but also feels real and violent.

Towards the end of the film there’s a sequence where Maigret sits with his detective Lognon (Guy Decomble) to his left, and opposite the American agent Harry McDonald (Paul Carpenter) and the flipped criminal Curtis (Harry-Max).

Grangier starts with a dolly to the wide, establishing where everyone sits:

He then cuts in to a simple shot-reverse between Maigret and McDonald:

We then jump to the other side of the line – sort of like a second master shot – and now Maigret’s eyeline also changes (he looks left, and not right, as above):

Grangier uses Curtis’ eyeline to move us from Maigret to McDonald, and then cuts to McDonald, who is also now looking right to accommodate the second master shot:

We now go back to the initial side of the line, and McDonald’s eyeline changes again – he looks frame-left. The new 2-shot, showing Maigret and Lognon in the same frame, again changes Maigret’s eyeline back to frame-right:

We get another new bit of coverage, and over-the-shoulder, where Maigret’s eyeline is tighter to the lens:

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And we end the scene with a new shot-reverse, between Maigret and Lognon:

I like this sequence. It’s more difficult then it looks, I think. Grangier uses two sides of the line, and always follows with coverage that subsequently changes both main characters’ (Maigret and McDonald) eyelines accordingly, so they’re always “looking” at one-another.

He shifts the line at changes of power (the first shift: McDonald takes control; the third shift back: some semblance of normalcy is restored), uses two-shots to show allegiances, and differentiates between control and lack thereof using clean-frames vs. over-the-shoulders.

It’s just good, solid directing that isn’t flashy, but makes a sitting conversation between four stationary people much more interesting.

Les Cousins

Not necessarily my favorite Claude Chabrol film, though Les Cousins, the great director’s second film, has beautiful moments.

There’s some really amazing, elegant blocking, and the country-vs-city narrative is compelling, but the film does get a bit boring. I wonder if Neil LaBute loves this film. It feels up his alley.

Some of that blocking makes the film though. Charles (Gérard Blain) studies in his room. Chabrol frames it as a stark overhead. He exits to his desk and we see only his hand hugging the corner of the frame. There’s a transition to day and then the camera moves to reveal him asleep in his chair:

It’s a nice visual approach to the scene, and it keeps us at a slight distance from Charles, who is himself a distant character.

In my last Chabrol post for Wedding in Blood I talked a lot about long-take blocking, and it’s evident even here in 1959. Chabrol begins this scene in a single on Florence (Juliette Mayniel), the object of Charles’ affection. He whip pans 180 degrees, finding people spilling out of the bar in front of her:

The camera pulls back as the group leaves, and then starts to pan back towards Florence. That’s her standing at the pole in the second image below. She then goes with Paul (Jean-Claude Brialy) towards the car:

As they enter the car, the view obscured by the pole the camera moves slightly back and pans left, revealing Charles.

I think this is the strongest moment. It’s such a great comparison with our initial view of Florence. She’s alone and separate from everyone and then joins the group, whereas Charles is with the group and then becomes alone and separate from everyone.

Chabrol’s blocking is so confident for such a young director. He was 29 when the film came out! And it’s not just movement for movement’s sake. The lens captures the whirlwind of excitement for the bar just left and the night to come, and then the bookended loneliness of two characters who may or may not love one-another.

 

 

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Wedding in Blood (Chabrol, 1973)

Wedding in Blood feels like a companion piece to Claude Chabrol’ film from three years prior, Le Boucher (one of my favorites of his) in its small-town scandal of the upper-class. Even some of the sequences, here between the great Michel Piccoli and Stéphane Audran, remind of those meetings at night between Audran and Jean Yanne in the 1970 film.

In some ways, Wedding in Blood is also a return to form. I admire elements of both Ten Days Wonder and Just Before Nightfall but neither matches Chabrol’s 1968 – 1970 output. Wedding in Blood does.

Much of this is due to the unbelievably believable affair between Piccoli’s Pierre Maury and Audran’s Lucienne Delamare. It’s one of the more visceral (but not graphic) unions I can think of from the time. Chabrol doesn’t need nudity to show that the passion is real. It’s in the small embraces, and down to a kiss with a really visible trail of saliva set against the backdrop of a burning car.

I love this clip from the film, which also features Lucienne’s husband, Paul (Claude Piéplu).

Sure, this is a fantastic long take. It’s involving and kinetic. The camera is motivated and Paul dominates both composition and movement. But I’m more interested for Lucienne. This is such a great example of using a (literal) background character to drift in and out of frame. Lucienne’s choreography is no simple task. Look at her intro in the clip around 0:32. The camera motivates from Paul’s turn and hand gesture to reveal her in the background walking to camera. She stays in the relative background and we leave her, staring at Pierre as Paul takes the lens away from her. When he immediately brings it back to her (0:45), she’s got her back to us and is retreating.

The closest Lucienne gets to dominant, visually, in this scene is at 1:24. She’s in the foreground, in close-up, but she’s a statue. The camera moves around her, rather than vice versa, and again, her husband takes the frame away from her at 1:30.

1:48 is my favorite part of this clip. Lucienne drifts, of her own accord (read: she moves, the camera doesn’t move to show her) into the background of the shot. She exits, is revealed again when Paul (an obvious consistent motif here) moves, walks to us, walks away again, and turns up similarly drifting in the background of the frame around 2:57.

But none of this drifting is meaningless. Chabrol clearly communicates that when, at 3:11 and the end of the long take, the camera finally lingers on her, alone, and doesn’t move with Paul.

This is also a masterful when in relation to the moment at 4:21. Lucienne finally breaks her act and breaks down. The earlier parts of the clip then become clearer: she’s been keeping her back to us (and to Paul) to more easily keep her emotions in check. Her drifting in the background isn’t aimless beach-going or ambivalence, but in fact brewing with emotion. It’s such a nice contrast to the end of the clip where she’s in the foreground, moving, emoting, and controlling the frame.

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The Executioner (Berlanga, 1963)

Wow, how have I never seen The Executioner before? Easily one of the best films I’ve seen in some time. It’s got elements of Buñuel, reminded me of some Neo-realist films, and is really just masterful in all regards.

As I noted in my last post on Satyajit Ray, I’m more and more interested in how directors transition from scene to scene. Luis García Berlanga’s approach is different than Ray’s. Here’s one of the early ones. Antonio (José Luis López Vázquez), older brother of José Luis (Nino Manfredi) comically measures his child’s head. Berlanga cuts from this shot to a wide of a bunch of characters we’ve never seen before:

This new shot in the new location then continues, until we find the main character. That’s José Luis reclining, frame left, and his bride-to-be Carmen (Emma Penella) in the foreground, frame right:

In the course of this I also looked quickly at recent popular films that I love. I scanned through No Country For Old Men and Zodiac. The Coens use some visual-verbal matching (a character talks about burial, cut to a CU of a coffin being lowered into a grave); a lot of J-cuts (music leaking into the scene as Josh Brolin stumbles down a bridge at night. Cut to him, in MCU, now during the day, with a mariachi band playing above him; that same coffin sound – the creak precedes the image); and classic graphic matching (Javier Bardem looks at the scrape marks in the empty air duct. Cut to a wide POV through a windshield (another J-cut), where the road matches the duct).

In Zodiac Fincher relies really heavily on J-cuts as well. He also uses a lot of general sound cuts (a lighter flicks on on the cut, for example). And he definitely isn’t afraid to cut wide to wide.

Here’s more from The Executioner. José Luis and Carmen hold hands, and then we cut to two brand new characters. Is this José Luis and Carmen again? Nope, it’s an unnamed pilot and stewardess, intentionally designed to look like the leads, who block past José Luis and his friend:

Or this one, where we go from a wide marriage proposal to what one might think is a wedding-

-but is in fact just José Luis’ fellow employees goofing around. Another visual joke. Like this one, where we go from José Luis and Carmen in various forms of intimacy to an actual packed church…

…only to find out that this is not their wedding, but that of some couple that we’ll never meet again.

Berlanga does this time and again in the film. Some of them are clever and funny, others just move as along to some brief sidetrack. José Luis rides away to perform an execution; Berlanga cuts to extras (who, like the pilot and stewardess perhaps remind us of José Luis and Carmen) who then reveal the main characters:

That strategy of cutting to another man and woman is also really intentional, and thematic. The Executioner feels Italian in this way. It’s very much about the tribulations of young love (not to mention about overcrowdedness, something that starts to crop up in Neo-realism and moves beyond that).

There are several other sly commentaries in here. Like the hip young couple who knows Antonioni and Bergman, but not their fellow countryman (and maybe, by extension, not Berlanga):

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There’s a beautiful, eerie scene in a cavern that reminds of Fellini or the recent The Wonders

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-but that is then comically punctuated by an unwanted boat intruding, paging José Luis:

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And there are atmospheric, memorable frames. My favorite is this one, which also happens to be one of my favorite crane shots that I’ve seen in awhile:

This could be from The Trial. The huge space, white walls, tiny door.

I won’t even get into Berlanga’s blocking. Suffice to say, he uses minimal coverage, motivates his camera simply, but often, with character movement, frequently pulls away to wide 2-shots or pushes in for emphasis, and is quite active.

 

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The Chess Players and The Stranger (Ray, 1977 and 1991)

Two here by Satyjit Ray. I’m trying to catch up on a lot of his filmography. It’s still hard to beat the Apu Trilogy and The Big Citybut I really enjoyed both of these later Ray films.

The Chess Players feels really loose, and more allegorical than I’m used to from Ray. I think of him as a sort of spiritual realist. Maybe close to an Ozu. But this film stands out from the others of his I’ve seen.

Two chess enthusiasts, Mir Roshan Ali (Saeed Jaffrey) and Mirza Sajjad Ali (Sanjeev Kumar), try to find a place to play chess while around them independent India begins to cede to the British.

Even the opening credits, with their dramatic black background and bold colors in the foreground, give the feel that this film might be a bit different:

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The hand coming in and out of frame, the bold opposing colors…it all feels so surreal. This is a really beautiful film. Ray frames Wajid Ali Shah (Amjad Khan) in such pretty frames. Here we see him so symmetrical and powerful. That later CU – the light reflecting the setting sun – he feels much more vulnerable:

That’s in pretty good opposition to Mir and Mirza, who really just want to play chess (and while this is a comedy, it’s also a tragedy, something that so many Ray films have in common). These guys are often pushed into corners, shot in natural, neutrally colored light, and very often in profile 2-shots:

They rarely seem to occupy their own controlled frames. While they’re at the center of the story in terms of screen time, they’re at the periphery of the greater narrative. That second shot above is a good example of some of the comedy in here. Mir and Mirza lose their chess pieces, so they try to replace them with anything they can find.

I also noticed a “back to the village” theme in here, one that crops up again in his last film, 1991’s The Stranger. In The Chess Players it takes this form:

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Mir and Mirza have left the comforts of the city in search of chess. They’re a bit lost and a bit out of their element. In The Stranger we see this presented somewhat similarly: a comfortably upper-middle-class family eventually makes their way to the village; in that film, with its far more optimistic read, they find solace and joy at the village. That’s not really the case in The Chess Players, which has a cynical eye.

The Stranger

I love everything about The Stranger up until the super-schmaltzy, overly predictable final 5-10 minutes. But that notwithstanding, it’s really an excellent conclusion to a storied career.

Manomohan Mitra (Utpal Dutt) claims to be Anila Bose’s (Mamata Shankar) long lost uncle. He comes to Bengal for a visit. Anila’s husband Sudhindra (Dipankar Dey) is skeptical.

The film takes place as a series of conversations and monologues, often on the part of Manomohan. It’s a great performance from Dutt. He really looks the part – deep sunken eyes and confident body language giving him the appearance of the worn, storied traveler he is.

I was looking at Ray’s color schemes a lot in this film. It’s dominated by the colors of the Indian flag (plus red). Overall it’s a rather green film, with pops of yellow/orange and red. Ray seems to separate his characters from scene-to-scene with a different color coding. Or, in the case of the first image below, a combo. Sudhindra wears green. Anila wears red. And their son, Satyaki (Bikram Bhattacharya), wears green and red. That’s appropriate because he’s between the two of his parents in their argument:

I’ve been more and more curious how directors shoot their transitions. Here are a few of Ray’s. He really likes to start new scenes – especially when we have a time or location cut – with inserts or close-ups.

He ends this lunch scene with a 2-shot of Anila and Manomohan, and then cuts to a tight CU of a coin for the start of the new scene:

Here we end with a three shot (rather beautifully framed, again in a way that reminds me of Ozu, with Manomohan’s horizontal body occupying the bottom of the frame), and then cuts to an insert of a parachuter:

He goes from this MCU of Manomohan (where he looks nearly directly into the lens – something that happens a few times in the film) to an insert of the bell:

And the last one I took note of, we end with a tight shot of the phone, and cut to a CU of an injured foot:

It’s not just that he likes to begin new scenes with inserts, it’s that these are all graphic matches. If you line them up this way it’s easier to see:

They all occupy basically the same place in frame, have a same basic shape, and are pretty tight. There’s something to moving to a brand new time and place that Ray likes about this. If he cuts to a new scene, but one that’s happening continuously he doesn’t necessarily do this.

This also all feels thematic. Manomohan is so obsessed with the circle of life in his own way. These images reflect that. Some of them are jokes. In Manomohan’s dialogue before the shot of the bell he discusses the moon; we get that the graphic match is also a verbal match.

Like Ozu, yet again, these feel like pillow shots – small glances at other parts of the world, separate from, but surrounding or within the scenes at hand.

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Death in the Garden (Buñuel, 1956)

Though Death in the Garden is undeniably a pretty minor Buñuel film it’s still got some moments that are truly his own. It leads up to his run of great films, starting, for me, with 1959’s Nazarin, and to the end of his life and career with That Obscure Object of Desire in 1977.

Death in the Garden was co-written by Buñuel regular Luis Alcoriza, but also by Raymond Queneau of the Oulipo group, and who also wrote Zazie dans le MetroYou can see some of these writerly influences in the film – the critique of state, a priest (played by a young Michel Piccoli) whose strong faith is at times subtly wayward, and a last third that’s a feverish jungle dream.

Other times, Death in the Garden feels like a pretty traditional film. Simone Signoret is Djin, the prostitute with a (eventual) heart of gold. Georges Marshal is Shark, the manly man who also has said golden heart.

Buñuel keeps his camera active. I was recently rereading Andrew Sarris’ Notes on the Auteur Theory. In it he claims that Buñuel is an auteur who came to technical prowess late. I agree. He’s not quite there in Garden – at least not to the level of really accomplished blocking and a camera that feels probing in his later films – but it shows that he’s got some chops and is on the way.

The final third of the film is best, in part, because of the absurdity of the situation. Father Lizardi (Piccoli) thinks better about burning his bible pages. Later, he’s dressed in full garb against the wild backdrop. The third image should recall Un Chien Andalou for most people, as ants crawl – not out of a hand – but on the pages of his beloved bible:

As I mentioned earlier, Buñuel does cast Lizardi as a hypocrite at times, but this isn’t always on the nose. Lizardi is struggling with faith, is sometimes mocked (as in a scene where he’s mistaken for one of Djin’s johns). He’s closer to the Christ-figures in Nazarin or even Simon of the Desert – generally gentle, a bit too self-righteous and over-serious, and not really aware of the world – than he is to the director’s takedowns in Andalou, or later films.

Then there are moments that are just pure Buñuel. Like here, where a python is consumed – alive – by a swarm of ants. It’s disturbing and brutal, and possibly allegorical. The second image below just feels like something Buñuel, Alcoriza, and Queneau might have dreamed up before the script was complete (“and there’ll be a giant plane, still intact, and Simone Signoret will be walking through the wreckage…”):

As things come to a sweaty head at the end of the film it’s not only the characters and setting who act a bit erratic; Buñuel also uses some clever transitions. Like this one, where a scene from the city (image one below), quickly becomes only a postcard held by the fire:

It’s a nice way to show the longing for civilization, but perhaps also the madness that is imminent.

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Harmonium (Fukada, 2016) and Hounds of Love (Young, 2016)

Harmonium is a fantastic film. I knew nothing about it going in, and all the better. This could have been written by the Dardennes in its quiet sense of unease, family dynamics, and bitter, unspoken past.

Asano Tadanobu is awesome as Yasaka, a man recently released from prison who comes to work for his former friend Toshio (Kanji Furutachi). The two men have silently uncomfortable relationship.

Director Kôji Fukada shoots much of the film in pretty wide, high-key, static frames:

Harmonium

That makes the moment of disruption – a shocking sequence around the midway point, shot in dynamic handheld – all the more jarring and effective.

This is a film that relies on small things and things unsaid. It also reminded me a bit of Chang-dong Lee’s films in that it masqueraded as one genre, hid another, and then fully developed into something rather separate from the the first two. I think that’s a rare ability. There’s a patience to that strategy, and patience is certainly what Harmonium has in spades.

I’m also interested in this film on a personal note. The script I’ve been working on for a few years, and that I hope to be my next project, has a character who is (sort of) similar to one in here. There’s a related theme as well, though the treatment of it is quite different. That said, I really enjoyed how Fukada took his time in showing how Toshio’s wife Akié (Mariko Tsutsui) cared for their daughter. It was shot with attention to detail, and in a really loving way.

Hounds of Love

I suppose comparisons to Snowtown Murders are pretty inevitable here. An Australian movie that has a similar mise-en-scene (though rather more active camera), is gritty as hell, features suburban violence from a sociopathically charismatic character.

If I’m nit-picking, then there’s a bit too much slow motion for my liking. But then again, I remember those sequences, so maybe not.

Hounds of Love gets so much from its leads. Stephen Curry is so menacing, without being a looming physical presence, as John White. I really wonder how you direct some of Ashleigh Cummings’ performance. It’s never overwrought, but is pretty consistently (and necessarily) hysterical. It’s a good tightrope that director Ben Young and Cummings walk – keep her believable and sympathetic, never over-the-top, but at a sustained fever pitch. I think that’s hard to do; in a bad case the victim can become unlikeable, which certainly doesn’t happen here.

Hounds of Love is that film that makes you feel a little dirty while watching it. Part of that is the production design and the photography, but I think it’s also in the sound design, which is full of heat, creaks, and the rattles of the neighborhood. It all feels so…domestic, but dangerous at the same time. Like make-you-wonder-what-your-neighbors-are-doing-right-now-dangerous. I like that.

The obsessive parent angle is, I suppose, pretty darn important to the plot, and it leads to a nice, if overdrawn climax. I also realize this is based off of true events. The plotting with the boyfriend is maybe a little easy. Again, all nitpicks. I think the best thing to do with Hounds of Love is just cringe and enjoy.

 

 

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