Archive for the ‘art-house’ category

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

December 14, 2014

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The title sounds like a script direction, or the beginning of a joke: A girl walks home alone at night. The information in those seven words is misleading: the girl in question (Sheila Vand) may walk home alone at night, but she is perfectly safe from harm. The girl is a vampire, and she wanders around a bleak nowhere town looking for blood, and sometimes just for company. Like Jesus, she sits with the disreputable and victimized without judgment. Unlike Jesus, she occasionally feeds on predatory men. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night hasn’t much plot; its young writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour approaches it as a thickly allusive study in disaffected humanity. Here and there it drags, but mostly its deliberate pace and its stark black-and-white aesthetic are hypnotic.

Amirpour treats cinema as a chocolate factory to which she’s been given a gold ticket to take anything off the shelves. The unkind will call it derivative. I find myself not minding this sort of thing as much as I used to. There is so very little true originality possible any more — and originality, when it does appear, is greeted so often with hostility — that I cannot but applaud a filmmaker who uses cinema with love and passion and sincerity, and never mind whether we can sit on the sidelines like nerds and identify her influences. The images unfold inside a wide, wide frame, emphasizing the gulf, the dead air, between characters. The girl meets a young man (Arash Marandi) who’s caught between the needs of his junkie father and the brute who’s supplying the father, and to whom the father owes serious money. The brute takes the young man’s vintage car as payment; he will not own it for long.

The girl lives in a room with a turntable that plays forgotten synth-pop (by the way, I want the soundtrack for this movie) and walls covered with images of Madonna and other signifiers of ’70s and ’80s pop culture. A Girl is Amirpour’s feature debut after a few short films, and it’s customary among rookies to throw everything they love into their first movie, because who knows when you might ever get to share the stuff you adore with an audience at this level again? The setting is a dream Iran (actually Bakersfield, California, shot in Farsi with Iranian expats), populated by townspeople who could already be undead, drifting in search of heroin or ecstasy or other forms of oblivion. Nothing here seems literal; reality drifts like snow. A man curses a photo of his dead wife, then becomes convinced that she has been reincarnated as his son’s cat. A fake vampire hugs a real vampire. There’s not much blood, even when the girl has her ears pierced with a safety pin. Vampirism seems beside the point in a world that appears to drain everyone of life and soul.

The girl, clad in a shroud-like chador and a horizontally striped shirt, is a ready-made hip visual. She even skateboards. A Girl is informed not only by Lynch and Murnau but by graphic novels and music; it reminded me of the just-for-kicks wild fantasias Gilbert Hernandez likes to write and draw, except the wildness is restrained, ascetic, like the underwater-damned sound of Portishead. It’s trippy and poker-faced yet heartfelt; its probably tongue-in-cheek marketing refers to it as “the first Iranian vampire western” — and tonally I can go along with that description — but it’s closer to the dread-ridden romance of Let the Right One In. Aside from a chilling bit in which the girl scares a little boy into being good for the rest of his life, A Girl doesn’t deal much in horror. The vampire girl drifts through the void, flashing her fangs only sporadically, in a shadowy universe where the weary strength of women trumps the frailty of men.

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Birdman

November 28, 2014

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Birdman is a sort of accidental metafiction dunked in surrealism or magic realism. If that loses you already, I don’t blame you, but the movie is a bit more nakedly entertaining than that. It’s a bit up itself with its talk of artistic integrity and “risking everything,” but the trick of the supremely gifted director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, is that what must’ve been intensely difficult to film comes off as smooth, playful, fun. Birdman is in part a celebration of what movies can do, and despite the story’s inherent mopiness, there’s a pure-cinema jazz-riff feel to it. The movie is indeed a risk; it always seems on the edge of tumbling into pretentiousness, but the working-man self-abasement of its star, Michael Keaton, pulls it back.

Keaton is Riggan Thomson, a former movie star whose claim to fame is having played a superhero, Birdman, in three blockbuster movies. We are told, of course, that the script (by González Iñárritu and three others) did not have Keaton in mind, even though Keaton is a former movie star whose claim to fame is having played a superhero, Batman, in two blockbuster movies. I assume that once Keaton signed on, the script may have been tweaked accordingly, otherwise the line about Riggan last playing his superhero in 1992 — the year Keaton’s final Batman movie was released — is weirdly prescient. I also assume that Keaton in real life does not share Riggan’s occasional talent for telekinesis, though this always happens when no one else is around and may well unfold only in his head.

Riggan wants to make his big comeback, and bid for credibility, by writing, directing and starring in an adaptation of Raymond Carver stories on the Broadway stage. Disastrous circumstances lead to a difficult but brilliant actor, Mike Shiner (the brilliant and often-reportedly difficult Edward Norton), replacing an injured cast member, and the play heads into previews amid much chaos, ego, and tenuous sanity. Mike tries to have actual sex with costar Lesley (Naomi Watts) onstage. On another night, a drunken Mike tosses the script and makes a shambles of the set. A theater critic (Lindsay Duncan) tells Riggan that she has decided, sight unseen, to destroy his play. Riggan’s daughter Sam (Emma Stone), fresh out of rehab, teases Mike and herself with the possibility of a hook-up. And so on.

All of this, like Hitchcock’s Rope, is seemingly filmed in one swooping, unbroken take, which is especially impressive when Riggan’s fantasies go whole-hog metafantastical and helicopters fall from the sky while Riggan is tormented by Birdman and eventually becomes him. González Iñárritu plays around like Welles did, a boy enchanted with his train set. Birdman is probably no Wellesian feat — it’s too intellectually amorphous for that; there doesn’t appear to be a sharp intelligence behind all the game-playing, though Emma Stone is refreshingly tart and fierce in the one scene when Sam gets to let loose on Riggan. This sort of life-vs.-theater construct certainly is a toybox for actors, just as it was in the far more challenging Synecdoche, New York.

Keaton is getting the kind of surprised acclaim that reminds me of when everyone fell backwards over Bill Murray’s work in Rushmore, as if Murray had never been good or serious in anything before then. Same with Keaton. Make no mistake, he’s terrific here, bitterly melancholic and gnarled and human, just as he’s been terrific all along. I do hope Keaton gets the comeback out of this that Murray did (though with Murray it helped that he had Wes Anderson stubbornly casting him over and over until even the densest viewer had to admit that Murray was more than a ghostbuster). Keaton “gives us range,” to quote an actorism that pops up twice in the film. The movie doesn’t have an enormous lot going on under the hood — González Iñárritu and his writing confederates aren’t Charlie Kaufman. It’s hilarious, though, that this weird, often bleak meta-whatsit might be the closest González Iñárritu can come to escapism.

The Zero Theorem

August 23, 2014

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The sickly neon lighting, the relentless Dutch angles, the grab-bag mix of futuristic and steampunk design, the theme of escape from bureaucratic control through fantasy: these are all excellent indicators that you’re watching a Terry Gilliam film, and his new one, The Zero Theorem, is the Terry Gilliamest piece in his portfolio in quite a while. I wish I could say that I mean that as a compliment, but Gilliam’s flaws may be inseparable from his strengths: when he’s on, he’s brilliant, but when he whiffs, the bleak swooshing sound is deafening, and The Zero Theorem, despite my fervent desire to claim otherwise, is one whiff after another. The surprise here is that most of the ground Gilliam covers here, he already trod devilishly well in Brazil, and after a while I wondered why he didn’t know that. He’s said he considers this film the third in a dystopian trilogy begun by Brazil and continued in 12 Monkeys, but it plays like a Gilliam imitator’s crude remix of the two.

Christoph Waltz, bald and charmless, is the obsessive computer geek Qohen Leth, who toils in a cubicle for the Management, personified by a white-haired eminence (Matt Damon, seemingly doing a Philip Seymour Hoffman turn). Qohen is given the Zero Theorem assignment — he has to prove that everything in the universe adds up to nothing. “Zero must equal 100%,” we’re told by machines again and again. This nihilist math/philosophy problem has broken many other thinkers, and Qohen, who refers to himself as “we” and has the prerequisite collection of genius quirks, finds himself dangerously distracted by blonde femme fatale Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry), who may have been sent by Management to test his resolve or sabotage his efforts.

Pat Rushin’s script plays as if Rushin fell asleep during a Gilliam marathon, woke up, and cobbled together a screenplay from what he dimly remembered. What’s missing is any emotional charge, any urgency — what William Goldman once called “the pregnant moment,” the reason the story is being told now. Qohen is a passive character obsessed with a phone call he once missed, a phone call he thinks could have revealed his purpose in life. Aside from that, he works on the theorem and he dallies in virtual reality with Bainsley. Much of The Zero Theorem is a two-character play, spiced up by Gilliam’s Dutch angles and colors that snap, crackle and pop. One dialogue scene, between Qohen and Bainsley in the cluttered former monastery he calls home, dribbles on and on; Gilliam seems to have forgotten that editing is part of the art of cinema, the thing that moves the images and the story.

Tedium sets in fast. Gilliam makes the surroundings as candied as he can, with Satire 101 messages running across digital billboards. The Management controls everything, but except for a Mutt and Jeff team of a heavy and his dwarf companion (ah, Gilliam and his dwarves), the Management doesn’t have much of a menacing presence, or a presence at all, really. Qohen stays inside for months grinding away on the theorem, occasionally resisting cybertherapy from Dr. Shrink-Rom (Tilda Swinton) and sharing irascible dialogue with the Management’s son (Lucas Hedges), a prodigious hacker who calls everyone Bob. Little of this has any dramatic interest; it’s full of bits of sour whimsy, which we’re meant to take as a hip, cynical vision of bland, hellish tomorrow (and tomorrow in this sort of dystopian satire is always today with futuristic trimmings).

One wants to root for Gilliam and his stubbornly uncommercial work, especially if we’ve enjoyed his earlier movies. I get no pleasure from swatting a new Gilliam film — there aren’t going to be very many more of them, he’s not getting any younger, and he has a hell of a time getting these oddball things financed as it is. A salute, then, to Gilliam for staying true to himself, not even knowing how to sell out. But the irony of The Zero Theorem is that it’s a parable about finding meaning in life, but it doesn’t mean much itself. It’s a doodle, a riff on Gilliam’s pet themes, but emotionally and dramatically it’s an inverse of the theorem: 100% of it equals zero.

Joe

May 4, 2014

20140504-211138.jpgDavid Gordon Green, it appears, has sweated out whatever troglodyte fever inspired him to detour into grossout comedies. Hailed as a successor to Terrence Malick (or at least a skilled acolyte) for his 2000 debut George Washington, Green in recent years had fallen in with a bad crowd of dudebros, hitting his nadir with the stoner romp Your Highness. As if putting away childish things, though, Green has rebounded with the seriocomic Prince Avalanche and now the grim Southern gothic Joe. The Malick influence obtains here, too, showing us what it might be like if Malick’s camera caressed the swamplands and itinerants’ detritus of Texas instead of its suburbs and plains. Green, however, gives us more finely-etched characters than Malick can. Adapting a Larry Brown novel, Green and scripter Gary Hawkins hang out in the morning chill and evening swelter of the rural south, observing without comment.

Nicolas Cage, sweating out his own schlocky fever, plays the eponymous Joe as a man weighed down by his own past (violence, prison time) and his temper that keeps threatening to make his past the present. Joe supervises a crew of men who poison trees so that new ones can be planted — a perhaps too on-the-nose metaphor for godforsaken communities like Joe’s, plundered and abandoned and financially butchered. A local 15-year-old, Gary (Tye Sheridan), emerges from the woods and asks for a job on Joe’s crew. Gary seeks money almost as much as he needs a reason to get out of the house, away from his out-of-it mother and his vicious drunk of a father.

Gary Poulter plays the father, Wade, a backwoods boogeyman whose veins seem to be pumping with cold acid; he beats Gary, steals from him, and later does even more irredeemably beastly things. Poulter was one of several actors in Joe who have no previous film credits; a homeless man, he was found by Green on the streets of Austin, and died there before the film was released. If Poulter only had this one performance in him, it was a stellar one to come in with and go out on. Wade is vile, but Poulter somehow locates the sad humanity in him. We’re seeing the wreckage of too much booze crossed with too many bad brain chemicals — the man Gary will probably never be but Joe is ever vigilant against becoming. Two other inexperienced actors — Aj Wilson McPhaul as a sympathetic sheriff and Brian Mays as Joe’s right-hand man on the crew — bring effortless authority and reality to the movie. Joe is full of amazing camera faces, such as a homeless man (Elbert Hill Jr.) who unfortunately crosses paths with Wade. As in George Washington, Green deftly casts local non-actors for the authenticity — the palpable sense of having lived hard — they offer.

Does the movie really need the stinky psycho Willie (Ronnie Gene Blevins), who has a grudge against Joe and ultimately joins forces with Wade? It threatens to tip Joe into conventional thriller territory, and surrounding Joe with mean men he wants to differentiate himself from is sort of gilding the lily. It gives Cage fresh raw meat to chew on, though, and he consistently underplays. We don’t catch him cartoonishly straining to keep a lid on his rage, as in Wild at Heart or the Ghost Rider movies. Cage here is closer to the ballpark of Nick Nolte in Affliction, forever haunted by the ghost of his own DNA.

Joe isn’t flawless — I’d file it on the “poky but compelling” shelf — but it’s a real movie, for grown-ups, fighting for table scraps in a marketplace dominated by spider-men and x-persons. It arises from a genuine wounded artistic sensibility; it respects talk and sadness and the irresolution of life. It’s also a man-cave movie, where women are whores or drunks and innocence is represented by Gary’s nonverbal sister, though they’re also seen to be living inside an apocalyptic reality created in large part by corrupt and violent men. (What I said about Cormac McCarthy’s The Counselor also holds true here: Joe isn’t a feminist work but it really isn’t masculinist either.) Thematically the movie is simplistic but sound — sometimes the two go together — and Green, along with ace cinematographer Tim Orr, finds the beauty in the squalor in which these people love and hate and work and kill. It’s a work of quiet substance.

To the Wonder

April 21, 2013

To-The-Wonder-Trailer6The throughline of To the Wonder is quite simple, as many romantic movies are. An American man in France falls in love with a French woman. He invites her and her daughter back to America. It doesn’t work out, and the woman and her daughter leave. The man strikes up a relationship with another woman he once knew years ago. That doesn’t work out, either. Then the man invites the French woman back to America. They get married. This doesn’t make things much easier. Meanwhile, a priest is having trouble with his faith. He and the man wander around a bit, comforting the sick and elderly. The end, I think.

That sort of synopsis doesn’t nearly grapple with To the Wonder, but then no synopsis could pin Terrence Malick to the ground. This is Malick’s sixth film in a 40-year career; he has been working at a positively blistering clip lately, relative to his output, because his previous film, The Tree of Life, only came out two years ago, and he’s working on another. Malick, who once taught philosophy and translated Heidegger, is perhaps the lone acolyte of the American sublime; he is preoccupied with the ineffable, the primordial, the ecstatic. To this end, he makes hushed and meditative films with painfully beautiful photography and lots of solemn, whispered voice-overs. Not a Team Malick member myself, I thought that Tree of Life was gaseous yet movingly inchoate, the work of a true seeker, and that it probably represented the purest expression of what he’s getting at.

And what is he getting at? In To the Wonder, the man (Ben Affleck) and the French woman (Olga Kurylenko) seem to represent The Man and The Woman. There are no people in a Terrence Malick film; instead there are abstracted avatars standing in for ideas. In Tree of Life, Brad Pitt was Nature — red in tooth and claw — and Jessica Chastain was Grace, spinning about free-spiritedly. And we see the same dynamic here. Men, weighted to the earth, must contend with its despoliation (Affleck’s character literally measures how much we’re poisoning the soil). Women, if this film and its predecessor are to be believed, fling their arms to the heavens at every opportunity and dance among the fireflies, the buffalo, the waves at the beach. If Tree of Life was about the son who felt pulled between the forces of Nature and Grace, To the Wonder is a kind of prequel-in-spirit in which we see how uneasily Nature and Grace live together.

So you see, it’s not really a romantic movie after all. Well, not lowly human romance, anyway. The priest (Javier Bardem) is there for a very significant thematic reason: to remind us how far we’ve fallen from the Grace of God. (This movie and Tree of Life feel intensely spiritual but don’t seem to show specific allegiance to any creed. God here is, as AA puts it, “as we understand him.” Or her. With Malick, we can’t be sure.) A little has been made of the way some of the plot seems to mirror Malick’s own romantic past, but I’d say he’s just writing what he knows as an on-ramp onto the highway of higher mysteries. Nature and Grace are mutually infatuated but can never reconcile; their aims are too different. Affleck, who sees daily what his species has done to the planet, cannot love. Kurylenko seeks companionship but cannot, will not, be tied down.

Your response to all this depends extremely heavily on how much philosophizing and pretty pictures you’re willing to accept in lieu of a story. I seem to have grown tired in recent years of the stuff Hollywood expects me to accept as stories, and so I have moved a little closer to the Malick camp, without quite being sold on the Master a hundred percent. Tree of Life and To the Wonder both fall into the “interesting, yet boring” category, ravishing but at an aesthetic remove dramatically. For instance, we see Affleck and Kurylenko arguing but never hear what they’re fighting about; we see the end of Affleck’s relationship with the second woman (Rachel McAdams) but have no idea why or how it ended. (In voice-over, McAdams whispers dejectedly that Affleck “made it into nothing” with his “lust.” Okay.) Again, I think we’re supposed to take these love affairs as Love Affairs, which in turn signify not mere matters of the heart but the titans of creation and destruction at war within all of us. Or something.

Also, I could be wrong but I believe this is the first Terrence Malick film that’s ever seen the inside of a supermarket. He finds beauty and ecstasy even there. But we don’t find out what groceries the characters buy or why they eat them, and I think that’s a useful thing to keep in mind when approaching this or any Malick film. They’re just in the supermarket.

Antiviral

April 14, 2013

Antiviral.jpg.scaled696-940x380Is it strictly fair to judge a young artist’s work against the work of his or her parent? In some cases the notion seems irrelevant. Sofia Coppola, for instance, has made her own distinctive mark with films rather unlike those by her father Francis. If Brandon Cronenberg had been consciously interested in stepping out of the shadow of his father David, he might have made a romantic comedy or a western — anything but a sterile, slow-moving biological thriller that unavoidably raises comparisons to Cronenberg pére’s early films like Rabid and Shivers. Cronenberg fils has written and directed Antiviral, in which celebrity-obsessed people pay to be infected with viruses that came from their favorite stars.

There’s a seed of satire in this, but only a seed. Cronenberg doesn’t have much to say about celebrity culture or its reductio ad absurdum in the form of fans vying to catch a famous strain of herpes (or lining up to eat artificial steaks cloned from the muscle cells of stars). Most of Antiviral is a poky and mannered affair focusing on Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones), an employee of the Lucas Clinic who smuggles celeb viruses in his own body. He becomes fixated on ailing star Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon), who’s dying of a mystery virus. The body-consciousness of the premise links Antiviral to your choice of David Cronenberg films, including Videodrome and even Crash, in which some of the characters wanted to re-enact famous celebrity car accidents. It was funnier there.

That’s definitely one thing missing: humor, or at least wit. David Cronenberg can do deadpan with the best of them, but there’s an active and playful imagination behind the poker face. People may have talked and acted like the undead in Crash, but the quiet, subversive comedy lay in the contrast between the characters’ dry-ice demeanor and the outrageous situations they put themselves in, helplessly and obsessively. In Antiviral, everyone wanders around as if underwater, inside hermetically-sealed compositions that scream “art movie.” The young David Cronenberg did this sort of thing in his early student films, but he had the sense and the mercy to keep them an hour or shorter. This goddamn thing crawls along for an hour and fifty minutes, with little to look at for long stretches except the unpleasant, stringy-haired, mush-mouthed Caleb Landry Jones as he limps around scowling and eventually drooling blood.

Oh, yes, it does get bloody. We see dark gore being vomited up a number of times, or coughed up, or smeared onto gleaming white walls. After a while we come to look forward to the red, because it’s a change from the movie’s relentless black-on-white color scheme. Almost everyone in the movie is pale, too, and I suppose the only reason the filmmakers didn’t go all the way and shoot in black and white was that the movie would’ve looked even more pretentious than it already does. Everyone whispers, and what little music we get is discordant noise, and aesthetically the whole thing is like being stuck in a dentist’s chair for two hours. There’s no life here, no passion, and we certainly don’t care about Syd March’s ill-defined mission to find out about that mystery virus. Antiviral is what happens when you make a movie around a fleetingly interesting idea but forget to find a story in it.

About an hour into it, Malcolm McDowell turns up as a doctor treating Hannah Geist, and we lean towards him gratefully. He doesn’t camp it up — he’s as quiet as everyone else — but the simple theatrical snap of his voice is a blessing. Antiviral is anti-entertainment in a way that even David Cronenberg’s most stubbornly interiorized work never is; it’s boring. I hate to say this; David Cronenberg himself has long since abandoned this type of body-politic chiller, and I’d hoped that his son might have the chops to pick up the mantle. But if anyone not related to Cronenberg had made Antiviral, I’d have the same complaints. Perhaps now that Brandon Cronenberg has gotten this out of his system, he’ll feel free to make his own way, his own movies.

Melancholia

November 13, 2011

In Melancholia, which has just gotten a theatrical release after a month of playing on cable on-demand, it’s the end of the world as we know it and Kirsten Dunst feels fine. It’s about the only time she does feel fine. As Justine, an unreachably depressed young woman, Dunst takes her place alongside a gallery of other female sufferers in the work of writer-director Lars von Trier. Like those others, Dunst puts in a career-best performance, sinking under the weight of self-lacerating despair. Justine’s condition is never explained, as it often isn’t explained in life (although her parents are played by John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling — there’s a big clue right there). In the movie’s first half, she gamely tries to slog through her wedding party, and the people closest to her, like her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), know full well how much work goes into each empty smile.

That the world ends in Melancholia — extinguished by a rogue planet also called Melancholia — is revealed in the opening moments; we get squished to the prelude to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, which recurs throughout the film as the wayward green ball in the sky draws closer. After that, we endure the wedding party, held at the sumptuous country house of Claire’s filthy-rich husband John (Kiefer Sutherland), who fancies himself an armchair astronomer. Justine has married Michael (Alexander Skarsgård), a well-meaning dud who comes off as though Andy from Parks and Recreation had wandered into an apocalyptic art film. He doesn’t last long. In the second half, Justine, having shed Michael and most of what’s left of her sanity, is living with Claire and John and their little son. As Melancholia bears down, the formerly stable Claire grows more and more frantic — John assures her the planet will harmlessly pass by, but she can’t bring herself to believe him — and Justine seems more and more placid. Her life is already over. Global death is just a formality.

Von Trier went through a period of depression a few years ago, and he worked it out in his previous film, the notorious Antichrist, in which nature seemed charged by grotesque and demonic energy. Melancholia is something of a bookend piece, equally gorgeous, not nearly as physically appalling, but almost as disturbing. It’s not a “horror movie,” exactly, but few images at the movies this year have been as frightening as the view of Melancholia growing larger in five-minute intervals through a handmade planet-viewer. At heart, it’s an epic about response to life and death. John, of course, seeks to master the mystery, just like Willem Dafoe in Antichrist and all the other clueless men in the von Trier portfolio. (The filmmaker gets tarred with the “misogynist” brush a lot, but his men are idiots and his women routinely win his actresses top prizes.) Claire clings to her life so tightly she can’t bear the thought of nothingness, while Justine has burned through despair into a kind of Zen-Buddhist shrug. If Antichrist was written in the throes of depression, Melancholia is a report on the condition after the fact.

The symbolism may strike some as a little neat: Melancholia has been “hiding behind the sun,” and then it emerges, blocking out everything else — much like the mood it’s named after. The entire grandly morose film could be read as a suicidal woman’s reverie on her own world ending. (Many depressives, squeamish about taking the final step off the ledge, fantasize about a vast catastrophe that will take their decision and their responsibility out of their hands.) But von Trier’s filmmaking, as always, is elegantly alive, never sodden with the script’s significance. The first half, well-populated by von Trier regulars like Stellan Skarsgård and Udo Kier, tosses in enough eccentricities (what’s up with John Hurt tucking spoons into his jacket pocket?) to counteract Justine’s moping. The second half is sparser and stiller, focusing on the sisters and their emotional preparation for doom.

Images may stick with you: a horse falling to the ground in extreme slow motion; Claire attempting to outrace the apocalypse in a golf cart; Kirsten Dunst’s features ravaged by loathing. Those looking for sharp internal logic should look elsewhere. Lars von Trier uses a literal worldwide disaster as a backdrop for a tiny, specific personal story about a woman who’s sick of pretending to be happy and who can’t help throwing everything away, cutting herself off from life so definitively that the end of the world is just the last of a lifelong list of things she can’t control. Giving up the illusion of control has delivered her into a kind of grace. Justine has already died every time the hated sun has risen yet again; soon it will all be over. Von Trier’s plotting isn’t always up to the level of his visuals or his emotionally-loaded philosophizing, but on the increasingly timid stage of world cinema he continues to be a giant among ants.


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