Film Comment (November-December 2018)

Lover and Theft, by Aliza Ma

These outsiders provide a window into the elaborate inner dynamics of domesticity, and a larger social canvas on which Kore-eda can investigate the ways families are formed by and give shape to social and cultural mores.

With her face despondent and her movements mechanical, these ritual displays of lust become a physical and psychological barrier to romantic intimacy, and a way to escape past emotional damage. This setup produces wistful and poignant observations on sex and romance in a world of artifice-consumed, post-procreational, and socially isolated individuals —  a heartbreaking theme that Kore-eda also delved into with Air Doll (2009).

What Kore-eda probes more deeply in Shoplifters than any of his previous films are the class issues in an overbearing late-capitalist megacity.

The cramped, downtrodden domain of the Shibatas stands in dark contrast to the mise en scene of Our Little Sister, […] and Like Father, Like Son, with its glistening allure of affluent city life. Instead, in this portrayal of individuals who have long been overlooked by dominant Japanese society, Kore-eda magnifies simple moments of pleasure shared by the characters into vignettes of poetry and grace, […]

Hope for Us Yet, By Manu Yanez Murillo

In short, past and present blur together in Rohrwacher’s vision of an Italy stasis — a land where the incessant cycle of dispossession is fueled by the dogmas of faith and profit.

A whole collection of uncertain realities, slightly out of time and place — lending the quality of myths, fables, and dreams — come together in the mesmerizing titular character of Happy as Lazzaro.

The filmmaker shares Lazzaro’s values but not his naivete: she distances herself from the film’s hero to observe the chain of exploitation that has propelled modern forms of feudalism. One can feel (and share) Rohrwacher’s outrage, but fortunately that doesn’t prevent her from admiring the beauty that radiates from Lazzaro.

It is through the eyes of her young protagonists that Rohrwacher captures the essence of Italian reality and its popular imagination, a cultural amalgam both exalted and dispiriting, colorful and miasmic. Through the curious, startled gaze of her uncorrupted heroes, Rohrwacher renders as pure, intentional chaos the connivance of the church, the political classes, the media, and the financial world in the governance of the state.

Still I Rise, by Nick Davis

It’s an urban panorama as meticulous and glorious as ROMA’s, but it knows characters more thoroughly and is less fixed on its own grandeur. It’s meditation on the decade-after-decade stocking of prisons with the bodies and minds of black men, framed not as expose or as systemic protest (though that’s certainly baked into the film) but through the inductive logic of emotional lament, watching a soul with everyday imperfections get railroaded down some familiar tracks and sequestered from everyone who loves him — including the filmmakers, who have only partial access to his experience.

Plenty of scenes or inserts could be almost anywhere in the film, especially those that advance feeling or tone more than plot, so full credit to McMillon and Sanders for maintaining affective through-line and dramatic momentum even in passages with no binding structure.

The Favorite, by Molly Haskell

The Favorite  is somewhere in between: it carries us along its exuberance and wit, its diabolical conceit, until it seems to gradually deflate; the verbal pyrotechnics disappear, with nothing to replace them. We live in a time of dark narratives (or anti-narratives); fractured plots; elusive, opaque characters; but even without the usual coordinates, we usually sense a director’s purpose, though we can’t always put it into words.

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