by Arnaud Desplechin Sibling ended with the audible reception of about seven boos, two mocking whistles and nothing else; if you’re someone who thinks indifference is a worse reaction than active hostility, that somehow seems to split the worst possible difference. The consensus holds, not without inaccuracy, that Desplechin’s pioneering work is, at least for now, behind him, with the arguable exception of My golden days—not coincidentally, a 1996 prequel my sex life. His experiences outside of erratic interpersonal dramas, like the one in 2011 explicitly titled Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian and the crime drama of 2019 O Mercy!, were greeted with lukewarm confusion. I have more sympathy for these than most and, while I would never actively recommend Sibling for everyone, and certainly not for anyone who’s never seen a Desplechin film, there’s a certain easy listening pleasure here (which is fitting for a film that deploys Al’s “Timeless Skies” twice Stewart).
Admittedly, “it was nice” may not be the desired reaction to another of Desplechin’s examinations of endless family resentment, a concern established in his first film, 1991. The Lives of the Dead (streaming this week on The Cinema Club). It is indeed an auteurist remix of trademark elements like outrageously hostile explosions, often brilliantly delivered by Mathieu Amalric; here, the weight goes to the titular brother Louis (Melvil Poupaud), who sometimes barks things like (at a kid!) “Stop smiling!” Nice people are bland! (Desplechin’s artistic credo, really.) Louis’ sister, Alice (Marion Cotillard) is an actress, who plays on Desplechin’s longstanding interest in theatrical performance examined in the 2000s. Esther Kahn and and 2003 Playing ‘In the company of men,‘ partially constructed from stage rehearsals. Both are part of the Vuillard family, introduced in A Christmas tale and revisited in The Ghosts of Ishmaelthe frame – as in the first and Oh, Mercy!– is again primarily Desplechin’s hometown of Roubaix, and the subject matter, unsurprisingly given above, is the comically oversized sibling hatred. The most recently introduced recurring element of his work is the weirdest, a penchant for last-minute location resets that require intercontinental travel: my golden years ended with unexpected jaunts to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, while this film ends with Alice’s expedition to Africa for about two minutes of footage. It’s very funny that, according to the credits, to obtain this, it was necessary to travel both to Senegal and Benin, even if it probably goes without saying that the optics of a French film that ends up blithely sending a white character to post-colonial Africa for the sole purpose of renewing himself personally is not great. I admit to liking these moves for their pure and disproportionate expense-to-screentime ratio.
At the start of the film, we learn that the novelist Louis has, not for the first time, written a novel smearing his sister, using her real name, no less; it’s a subject Desplechin likely has feelings about, as he was successfully sued by ex-girlfriend Marianne Denicourt for dramatizing elements of his life in 2004 kings and queen then anatomized as the evil genius “Arnold Duplancher” in his next novel. When Louis and Alice’s parents are involved in a near-fatal car crash, the two are forced into close quarters for the first time in years, taking alternating shifts avoiding each other at their hospital bedside – if and how they will reconcile is the main point of the film. crossing line. The characters share names with past incarnations of the Vuillaurds and their satellites, for example, in A Christmas talePoupaud was Ivan; here, her Louis is married to Faunia (Golshifteh Farahani), the character name of Amalric’s wife in this film. This family tree no longer makes sense, which doesn’t bother me particularly; like one of his artistic heroes, Philip Roth, Desplechin keeps coming up with new names and angles for the same concerns, and it would be foolish to complain that he doesn’t care about building a cohesive world, because it’s definitely not a Marvel business.
Given all this familiarity, what are the degrees of difference leading to such an indifferent reception? Desplechin’s work to the end Christmas tale operated on a hyper-nervous register – excitable handheld camera work, jagged editing, screaming matches and mental breakdowns on the manic-depressive spectrum. For some time his work has moved closer to ‘classicism’: in its early days, the film is practically without music and almost placid in its direction and editing. The expected, obviously eclectic soundtrack cues finally arrive (KRS-One and Destroyer, cheek to jowl), with agitated exchanges underpinned by a typical excess of alcohol (eminently characteristic exchange: “You seem bored.” “No, I drink”), literary allusions and the specter of possible mental illness. (Desplechin’s other credit this year is as director of the second season of the French version of In therapy.) What puts people off, I guess, is the counterintuitive comfort and decided lack of urgency of this return to the familiar. Perhaps the smile on Marion Cotillard’s face every time she’s about to say something particularly hurtful, a familiar contradiction in the performances of regular Desplechin performer Emmauelle Devos, best captures the your paradox. As uninspiring as it is, I’ve been watching Desplechin’s work in more or less real time for 20 years, and I can’t deny the comfort of another ride.
Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk’s first feature film, Pamfir, operates from the outset in a familiar idiom of slow cinema. Returning from a job abroad in Poland, titular father Leonid (Oleksandr Yatsentyuk) returns to his beloved wife Olena (Solomiya Kyrylova) and son Nazar (Stanislav Potiak). Once a smuggler, Leonid (his nickname is the title of the film) is quickly forced by events to resume this activity on an ad hoc basis, recruiting his brother Victor (Ivan Sharan) and his stupid godchildren for this proverbial One Final Run to pay. a substantial debt. Things, naturally, don’t go as planned, and the film quickly turns tragic, punctuated by sporadic acts of violence.
PamfirThe film’s visuals (seem) owe a lot to Miklós Jancsó, as Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk and DP Nikita Kuzmenko are immediately adept at variations of his signature slow circular pans of the countryside, rolling out bicycles and (under various narrative pretenses) lots of color smoke to mark the landscape. (Kuzmenko has shot several high profile music videos, most notably for Cardi B, who checks in with the oversaturated charts.) Pamfirthe pacing of , however, is oddly accelerated, its story playing at 1.5 times the expected speed, and I found myself mostly bewildered by its rush of violence; an early confrontation between Leonid and a dozen goons briefly hints at the potential for a “Crazy 88” storyline, but the film’s aims are darker. Showing sadism isn’t, in and of itself, an act of sadism, but there’s something programmatically nasty here that doesn’t synthesize into something greater than its beautiful ugly form/content dialectic. I file this as “one to watch”, given Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk’s objectively deft, sometimes surprising mastery of this colloquial idiom, and in any case my audience loved it. This somber portrait of the state of the Ukrainian nation obviously comes at the right time, and the thunderous percussion of its closing electronic credits provided a pleasant rhythm to the cheering crowd.
At Cristian Mungiu’s NMR,conveniently for me, is also a study of a father returning home from a stay abroad for economic reasons, only to go on a rampage. Matthias (Marin Gregoire) is introduced working in a German sheep slaughterhouse; When a factory supervisor calls him a “lazy gypsy,” Matthias quickly gives him the whim and heads back to his hometown of Transylvania. Everyone left home to find work elsewhere, which we know because the characters keep saying it, and Matthias’ bakery manager’s ex-girlfriend, Csilla (Judith State), was forced to recruit foreign workers for minimum wage positions. His hiring of two Sri Lankan employees (Gihan Edirisinghe and Amitha Jayasinghe) immediately sparked a virulent racist backlash from the townspeople, first in the form (understandably) of a despicable Facebook group. Because Mungiu is a filmmaker incapable of not staying terminally ill with the message, an apparent digression – Csilla having a nice holiday dinner with her new recruits – is punctuated by a half-assed Molotov cocktail thrown out the window; the person next to me jumped, but for me this development was clearly inevitable.
NMR ostensibly takes place during the 2019 Christmas season, which I thought for a moment was an escape from having to otherwise incorporate COVID masking et al. (something the filmmakers are still understandably reluctant to do, although at some point we’ll all have to suck it). But Mungiu has a bigger goal here: One of the most eloquent fanatics is a doctor who argues that Sri Lankans, and Asians in general, have a “different viral pathology,” foreshadowing pandemic racisms to come. The film’s metaphors are extremely on the nose: the title is the Romanian abbreviation for a process that scans the brain, and knowing that makes it easier to understand than a subplot about Matthias’ father suffering from a unknown brain damage is a metaphor for The Internalized Intolerances that will kill Romania. But NMR is a bit looser than usual for Mungiu, who hilariously credits Csilla with obsessing over repeatedly listening to “Yumeji’s Theme” from love mood and trying to learn how to play the cello while drinking red wine in her pretty house (very “aesthetic”, Buzzfeed Lifestyles style). All this builds a long-term trademark, like the botched “exorcism” in Beyond the hills, of a public assembly where, in a very wide shot, mostly racist inhabitants and a few dissidents are arguing over the opportunity to expel the foreigners. Mungiu helpfully notes in the press kit that this shot is 17 minutes long and contains 26 speaking parts; if the effect is the seamless simulation of racism, which isn’t exactly hard to find in the real world, I was still as impressed as expected.