Sunday, February 07, 2010

538 - You Aught to Know - 23-24

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu, 2007, 26 points

Recalling the stripped-down efficiency of the French New Wave, Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu finds unquantifiable success in his embrace of cinema verite, making this painstaking portrait of a young woman far more than "that abortion movie" it was unfairly pigeonholed as on the festival circuit. Rightly telling the story from the POV not of the pregnant girl, but her friend and accomplice in what was an illegal act in 1980s communist Romania, Mungiu makes no moral-judgments about the practice of abortion itself. Instead, he chooses only to depict its tragic consequences within his circle of characters. With perhaps the handheld tracking shot of the decade and a fierce lead performance from Anamaria Marinca, the fact that Mungiu directs with such confidence and precision is just icing on the cake. - Danny Baldwin

Broken Flowers, Jim Jarmusch, 2005, 26 points

Murray was improperly nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Lost In Translation. His dramatic performance in this film is far more powerful, in my opinion. Whereas his performance in Translation was a good mix of his Venkman wit juxtaposed against his sad-dog face, Broken Flowers challenged Murray in a way no other film that I’ve seen him in has done (I have not seen his performance in The Razor’s Edge). It stripped him of his stand-by humor. While there are funny moments in Broken Flowers, there is no opportunity for Murray to explode into zaniness as he did, for example, in Groundhog Day and in the karaoke scene in Translation. Broken Flowers begins with a broken man, depressed and vulnerable, who is begrudgingly forced to go through the motions of assessing his past by the external forces of his neighbor’s curiosity and the mysterious appearance of a letter on pink stationary. Murray had to go to a dark place to realize this character, and he succeeded.

But Broken Flowers is a piece of cinema, and there are several stylistic aspects to it that I would like to mention in professing my adoration for it. The visual distinctions that Jarmusch and Elmes (the d.p.) make when Johnson is having a dream or memory create a softly fantastic consciousness that serves as counterpoint to the odd grittiness of the “real” scenes (which themselves at times feel absurd—the Lolita scenes, for example, and the Lynchian dinner scene with his ex who has married the realtor). More, the dream and memory sequences allude to “real-life” shots that we’ve already seen in the film, giving new emotional interpretation and color to these images, revealing aspects of Johnson’s character. Murray smartly plays Johnson in a muted way, because much of what we learn about him is shown by the director and d.p.. Moreover, Johnson doesn’t seem to understand his own emotions, and it is that sense of a quest that gives the film a dark sheen of allure for me.

Jarmusch always has a great sense of style. The Ethiopian soundtrack for the film is so perfect that I bought it as a Christmas gift for a friend. Like Coffee & Cigarettes (and any other Jarmusch film, really), there is a sort of hipster aesthetic to the film that gives me that coveted little feeling of savviness that I like to relish. The settings have wonderfully different feels, and serve as emotional locales for our searching picaro (the film does, of course, allude to the different tellings of the “Don Juan” character, cinematic and literary). These settings are punctuated by wonderful photography, particularly during the driving scenes that intersperse the dramatic ones. As Johnson drives between adventures, his banal rental cars are transformed into meditative spaces with brilliant photography of him, the car and the road, from a variety of lenses. Most tellingly, though, these objects are often shot via their reflections in the many mirrors that garland a car. Thus, these transubstantiative moments are rendered more compelling by a refractory assemblage of nostalgic reflections, a fragmentary collage of glimpses in to the past, into what’s “behind” as Johnson all the while surges forward with the momentum of his automobile.

This sense of progression, however, is ultimately stopped during a crucial scene at the end of the film, where Johnson is circled several times by a single camera. Whether our hero reaches a self-actualizing moment during this scene is left to each of our interpretations. - Aaron McNally

Broken Flowers is an odd movie—best not to talk about it here. Call me and borrow it sometime, and we’ll talk when you return it. I still don’t know what it is about this movie that works so well for me, but here goes. It’s Lost in Translation set in America or something. Everyone’s talking to Bill Murray, and it seems he understands, but there’s never any linkage or connection—never any filmic conversation. The distance is humorous and confusing and fascinating. It’s the same distance that created the character, Don Johnston — a man who has to be roused from his walking-death sort of self to even start the search for his estranged son. The closing scenes are killer. Don has realized he does want connection—does want a son—and finds himself inspecting every young man intently to discover himself in their face and making awkward advances when he thinks he has. The effect is heartbreaking and/or hilarious, depending on your perspective that day. It can even be both at the same time, which I tend to like. Reminds of me life. - Nick Roos

Previously on You Aught to Know: Nick Roos

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