Category: Film

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A shot of the female lead entering her train car in Juho Kuosmanen's "Compartment No. 6".

Longing’s Transit: On Juho Kuosmanen’s “Compartment No. 6” (2021)

In Juho Kuosmanen’s Compartment No. 6, Laura is an introverted, soft-spoken Finnish national studying the Russian language in Moscow. Ljoha (or Lyokha, depending on how you want to Anglicize the name) is the sort of crass, bull-headed man that another character later on in the film remarks “is pumped out of a factory.” Both are on their way to Murmansk, in the northern wastes of Russia, and have found themselves partnered in the same cramped train compartment. Laura wants to inspect the Kanozero Petroglyphs, in order to discern humanity’s future from its past. Ljoha is heading there for work at a mining facility, so that he can build up funds for his own business ventures. That they are both searching for something more than their stated purposes is clear, although Laura is the more befuddled of the two, too vexed by her own romantic agonies to realize that she likely couldn’t give less of a damn about some old stone carvings in the Arctic cold.

Juho Kuosmanen’s adaptation of a novel by Rosa Liksom is a kind of love story, and bluntly states itself as such by the end, but there is no saccharine meet-cute, and the setting is less than quaint – instead, there is a pervading sense of melancholy, as Laura is a stranger in a strange land, and her journey away from Moscow’s ivory tower as well as an ephemeral relationship (the opening party scene deftly portrays the cutesy pretensions of the academic types that Laura’s girlfriend, Irina, pals around with), into wilder regions are punctuated by shots of the train’s slow passage through rainfall, icy winds, and barely-lit nights. The discomfort of human smells and unwanted company are only briefly alleviated by a cracked-open window or the precious gentility of a dining car. Kuosmanen and cinematographer Jani-Petteri Passi ably maneuver their camera through the train’s confined interiors, following its characters like a particularly nosy companion in order to adequately capture their reactions. Such transit allows for very little privacy, and, outside of complete stonewalling, one is almost forced to associate with fellow travelers in order to pass the time more easily. While the connection between Laura and Ljoha is undeniable, all these elements make us ask: how much does sheer convenience (with chance contriving a sort of Stockholm Syndrome for both parties) play into their growing bond? They are, after all, very different people, as Ljoha is mystified by Laura’s wannabe intellectualism and cannot accept her canned reasoning for wanting to see the petroglyphs. […]

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A shot of a hooded "glasses man" from Chris Marker's "La Jetee".

Shadows & Windows: On Chris Marker’s “La Jetée” (1962)

It is not uncommon for one to imbue more into another than what is actually there; where time and memory are no longer obstacles, and on the outside exists some narrator. Everything then becomes ordered according to some standard. Memories uphold our moments as though they were poles in a tent, but remove them from our minds and we are left formless and limp. Free, possibly, to build into some other identity. Or perhaps left wandering some empty wartime world.

Chris Marker’s La Jetée finishes in just under 30 minutes and offers a narrative via voiceover and still pictures. Before us lives the war torn cities, the silence of metal and transport. Time is no obstacle, as humans can easily cross from one moment into another, seamlessly and without plans. […]

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A stylized shot of the child Dalai Lama in Martin Scorsese's "Kundun".

Buddhism In Art: On Martin Scorsese’s “Kundun” (1997)

Wondering whether any works of art profit from the richer aspects of Buddhist philosophy, I mostly found mediocre films such as Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha, which miscasts a wooden Keanu Reeves as Siddhartha Gautama, or biographies on well-known monks, that, although interesting to someone already familiar with their lives, are not any more compelling. One of the few exceptions to this is Martin Scorsese’s Kundun, which owes its success not only to excellent cinematography (Roger Deakins) and scoring (Philip Glass) but especially to Scorsese’s ability to exploit core Buddhist concepts to striking poetic effect.

The film follows the fourteenth Dalai Lama’s childhood and his subsequent struggles with the Chinese invasion of Tibet. From the opening shot, there is a dynamism to the film’s editing (Thelma Schoonmaker) and cinematography characteristic of Martin Scorsese’s best films. The film begins with an image of the Himalayas, which transitions into a reverse video of a mandala as it is blown away, making it seem like the wind itself was creating the sandpainting. There is an elegance to this opening that makes it clear, from the start, that Kundun is a work of art first and an act of devotion second. […]

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A stylized shot of actor Evan Peters in Ryan Murphy's "Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story".

Why Ryan Murphy’s “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” (2022) Misses All Perspective

I have always believed that there is no subject too dark or grisly for one to explore. All topics, regardless of the comfort involved, should carry a freedom of expression within a work of art. This includes politics with which one might not agree, historical perspectives, and even murderers. If handled well, quality is certainly possible. However, with this comes the potential of over-indulgence. Is this topic worth a film, much less 10 hours of one?

Netflix has released Monster, its 10-part series on serial killer Jeffery Dahmer and just by the length alone, it reeks of self-indulgence. There have been other well-made works on serial killers, including previous films on Dahmer, which were good. My Friend Dahmer (2017), as example, is based on a novel by Derf Backderf and is told from Backderf’s perspective. In Netflix’s 2019 film on Ted Bundy titled Extremely Wicked; Shockingly Evil and Vile, the story is told from the perspective of Bundy’s girlfriend, Liz. In both instances, the outsider perspective offers a unique slant, as we only see as much as the limited narrator knows. […]

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A dreaming "Billy Liar" from John Schlesinger's 1963 film.

The Intoxicant: John Schlesinger’s “Billy Liar” (1963)

The British New Wave receives less attention than its contemporaries – that’s a disappointment, but one mitigated by context. The French new-wave was loosely characterised by style and escapism, the American new-wave is similar in that way. These examples are painting with broad strokes, but it’s undeniable those counterparts have their own special blends of herbs and spices. The premise of them remains the same: a rejection of old cinematic convention in favour of a new, visionary approach, imitated by their narratives of bucking status quo.

It can be argued that the new wave of any culture is broadly representative of the outlook of its youth, once again painting in broad strokes here. But England was peculiar, our counter-culture was prone to mishaps, and the status quo was harder to shift. In that way, John Schlesinger’s Billy Liar is one of the most quintessentially English, and new wave, films of its time – it reflected back a desperate image, for a youth that was always ground beneath the heel. […]

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A stylized shot of the two lead actors practicing shooting bottles in Carlos Saura's "Deprisa, Deprisa".

Poverty & Criminality in Carlos Saura’s “Deprisa, Deprisa” (1981)

What to say regarding a life of crime for four juveniles who, in an attempt to finance their way out of poverty, are constantly on the run and yet living a nebulous life of nowhereness? Carlos Saura’s Deprisa, Deprisa, which translates to Faster or Hurry, caries an underlining irony to the question of what else is there for them in their otherwise motionless lives if not committing crimes? Perhaps visiting the occasional dance club or shooting cans in a broken, trash-filled field when they’re not burning the cars they robbed—in any event, their lives are equally split between intense boredom and momentary fragments of excitement. This is their present, their future, even, as their lives amount to a nebulous, a bland pulp.

How the story goes is this: Pablo (Jose Antonio Valdelomar González) and his friend Meca (Jesús Arias Aranzueque) steal cars. They do this regularly, then carry out a robbery, and once done they burn the car they stole. They frequent the occasional bar where a young girl named Angela (Berta Socuéllamos) works. Pablo approaches her and asks her out. She agrees. He likes her and she returns the feeling, despite his living within a one-bedroom hovel. Without hesitation, she becomes his girlfriend and begins to accompany him and his two friends on various crime-filled excursions. […]

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A stylized shot of the main characters in Carlos Saura's "Cria Cuervos".

The Girls, the Garden, the Pictures: On Carlos Saura’s “Cría Cuervos” (1976)

A solemn piano piece plays over sentimental family photos; young Ana, whose wide-eyed face is lingered over in the images (and will come to dominate the screen), moves about in the shadows of a great house. All is sealed off, every space shuttered and the house’s stately surfaces only barely defined by what visible light there is, so that Ana, in a nightgown, appears luminous and strange. She seems to be homing in on a room where a man and woman make furtive and intimate congress; suddenly, the man is seized by some attack, and as the woman rushes out of the room in a disheveled state, the look she gives Ana (and her hurried exit from the darkened manse) tells the viewer just enough about their relationship, or lack thereof. Ana, throughout all of this, is impassive, and when she sees the man lying, slackened by death, in the sheets, she seemingly does not understand why the man cannot respond to her quiet inquiry. This is her father, some distinguished military figure if the pictures offer any clue, and his face now is as opaque as the gloomy interiors of his home.

There is a mostly finished glass of milk on a nearby desk. Its significance, for now, is unknown to us save for Ana’s curious attention towards it in the midst of her father’s death. She takes it and cleans it and in the kitchen (brilliantly lit, the very picture of purity, now) her mother finds her and teasingly chides her – but not all is as it seems. […]

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A shot of Michel's thievery in Robert Bresson's "Pickpocket".

A Lesson In Intricacy: Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket” (1959)

Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (1959) is a study of human intricacy. With compulsive desperation, Michel (Martin LaSalle) is a Parisian loner who, living separately in a run-down flat, has developed a fixation on perfection. The stressful tricks he must perform to gain that wallet or purse seem not worth it, but for him they’ve become a substitute for intimacy. In fact, what he lacks in human intimacy he makes up for in manual dexterity. Unable to get close, even his ill mother he keeps at a distance. Is it humiliation? Shame? The only time we witness him approach anyone is when he employs a sleight of hand near a pocket or purse. On the metro, Michel nervously reads a newspaper in his attempt to pull a man’s wallet out from his jacket pocket. Bump ever so slightly and now the wallet is swallowed by the grey newspaper folds—gone forever. But Michel hesitates. Not because he lacks the addiction or is succumbing to second thoughts, but often his nerves overtake him. […]