Blue Valentine

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When we were children my father used to tell my sisters and I the magical story of how he met our mother. Today, many years removed from the simplicity of childhood, his story conjures up only two possible scenarios. The first one is that my father was lying. This makes sense, as the man has proven adept at deceit. The second scenario is that he was telling the truth. Perhaps the events in which he met my mom were as sweet and lovely as he made them out to be.

Citing religious reasons, my parents never obtained a divorce. They trudged along the motions of an unhappy marriage, believing one right trounced a myriad wrongs. They were of course, mistaken. My sisters harbor such contempt towards my father that having them in the same room invites calamity each time. I was a victim of this affliction as well, once upon a time, before the forgiveness of the Lord filled my heart with forgiveness towards my mom and dad. Yet even after having openly forgiven my dad, there is no chance for a healthy, constructive relationship between us. I’ve made peace with this, but I worry for my sisters.

My father turned 63 last week, and already old age is on display. Their time frame to forgive the man is running shorter and shorter. What a dreadful thing, to go through life with resentments and bitterness intact.

A-

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Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

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Frequently entrancing, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer adds to the evidence that Tom Tykwer should be celebrated as one of cinema’s most audacious directors. Here’s a movie that must have been incredibly difficult to shoot, for how do you film a scent?
When describing a smell, we usually rely on past recollections. For instance, I might describe a fragrance by saying it smells like pine trees. Since we already know what trees smell like, we understand. But how would you describe the precise scent that emanates from the bark and the leaves?
Watching Perfume feels precisely like that, each image capturing exactly the proper nature of the object.

A

Into the Wild

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Nowhere is the astonishing hypocrisy that led to Christopher McCandless’s (Emile Hirsch) demise evidenced as clearly as in a pair of scenes that take place a little over halfway through the film.

Saying his goodbyes to Tracy T (Kristen Stewart), the girl who’s been crushing on him since day one, he speaks what in his mind must have sounded like the words of a prophet. “And remember, if you want something in life, reach out and grab it”.
It’s an absurd philosophy.
Two scenes earlier, Tracy had tried to do just that. Wanting to be with Christopher, she called him into her room, took her clothes off, laid in bed, and then…stayed there while Christopher politely rejected her. She had tried grabbing what she wanted, and had failed miserably.

Of course such manner of platitudes sound good, and they may make us feel even better. To live fervently adhered to a moral code we believe superior than those of our neighbors is a rush; who doesn’t love being the smartest person in the room? Taking it to the extreme, Christopher exiles himself, far from the company of his lesser peers. And while most of us possess enough judgement to stray from such wild endeavors, there is something to be learned from all this.

All along, Christopher proclaims the urgency of the truth. The movie hammers home the importance of forgiveness. A character even declares that when we forgive, God’s light shines upon us. The truth is the only way to a happy life, then; I know what path I’m on. Do you?

B+

 

You Were Never Really Here

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Had this film been directed by anybody but Lynne Ramsay, it would have starred Denzel Washington and climaxed in a bloody shootout with the bad guys. But Ramsay really shows no interest in appealing to the masses; her true concern resides in what traumas are concealed underneath their facades of civility.

Unsettling is her staple, and You Were Never Really Here has that in spades. Not out of horror, or violence. This is disturbing to watch because it makes no attempt to contextualize pain, nor does it offer an easy way out of it. It portrays a character so broken and haunted by demons that watching him can feel punishing at times. So does the movie. I cannot say I enjoyed it, but it’s effect is undeniable.

B+

Gone Baby Gone

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Now here’s a different kind of detective story. The crime that sets the story in motion has already been committed when the film starts, and it is solved about an hour into it. So what’s this really about?

It is a film that asks viewers to lay out their morality and justify it in the face of the fact that true justice does not really exist in this world.

A-

The Florida Project

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Shortly before feeding them, the Bible tells that Jesus had compassion for the weary and hungry multitude. Two thousand years later, the word has been almost eroded from our vocabulary; that’s maybe why Sean Baker’s camera seems to urgently remind us of it.

The Florida Project, one of the most moving and wonderful pictures of the last five years, brims with compassion. It is found on every shot of this Orlando set story, taking in the inhabitants of a stretch of highway that have been forgotten by locals and visitors alike, everybody so concerned with rushing to the self proclaimed most magical place on earth.
Most crucially, Sean Baker appears to understand the great irony of our species: the tragedy of humans is not that we are victims of this broken world, but that we are also complicit in it.

The film never romanticizes nor does it judge it’s characters, allowing them to exist fully and freely. It is this approach that makes the story, consisting more of episodes than a full fledged plot, a spiritual companion piece to another wistful film of Americana, Andrea Arnold’s lyrical American Honey.  The characters in that movie never felt like the inventions of  a screenwriter, and neither do these ones. Halley (Bria Vinaite) and Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) are breathing, living creatures that we happen to have stumbled upon. As such, there are moments which are truly unbearable to watch.

It is not only the abject poverty that defines Halley and Moonee that’s tough to watch, but their attempts to rise above it. Halley loves her daughter and will do whatever to see her smile, yet the way she tries to do it is toxic not only for Moonee, but for herself as well. Halley’s perpetual stare is of fury and resignation, which paired with the endless wonder that fills Moone’s eyes only serves to drive home the point that eventually the daughter will become the mother.

By the end of the film you’re keenly aware that, unless the film suddenly goes off the rails into the realm of fantasy, there exists only one logical way for the story to end. Indeed, I’d argue that this is a movie which cannot be spoiled, because reality has trained us to know certain basic realities of our world. And if it hasn’t, Sean Baker’s camera has been there to guide you with every shrug, scream, sigh and punch of his characters; with every weary look, eyes of love, and belly full of laughter.
And yet when it finally does arrive it’s effect is still devastating.

In truth, I had to avert my gaze from the screen. I could not bear to look up at the screen, yet even listening to the audio was agonizing. Was I hiding out of embarrassment or pain? To be honest I think I was praying.
When a few seconds later I lifted up my eyes, I was greeted to a final sequence so magnificent in its creativity, so majestic in its execution, so heart-wrenching in its implications, that I knew I was going to remember it until the day I died.

A+

In Bruges

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It is tempting to insert here one of the many, many insanely funny, unbelievably quotable lines from the movie. I’ve found myself repeating some of the dialogue over and over in my head, laughing each time. Of course great dialogue matters little if the performers tasked with bringing the words to life aren’t up to par; the characters who inhabit In Bruges are some of the most memorable and alive I can recall. They matter so much that at one point in the movie I wished a sequel could be made, or a prequel, or anything else as long as the three main characters make an appearance again.

A-