Film Comment (September-October 2018)

Everybody Hurts, by Andrew Chan

More than any of his Korean compatriots on the international art-house scene, Lee, who served as South Korea’s minister of culture and tourism in the early 2000s, has always been prone to sick-soul-of-the-nation indictments, tinged with a mix of mordant humor and earnest humanism reminiscent of Edward Yang.

More and more, the director has began to revel in the pleasures of genre, and with his two previous masterpieces, Secret Sunshine (2007) and Poetry (2010), he figured out how to make melodramas with sharp teeth and irresistible momentum. In this insular worlds of these films, suspense and tragedy fit hand in glove: every moment is fueled by the question of how the heroine will make it out of her purgatory alive.

Where both Secret Sunshine  and Poetry are centered on alienated women whose individuality is thrown into relief by grim fate — women who has given up on reading all the social cues — Burning shows us characters who stumble their way into connections without having too much of a self to offer, in the process conjuring identities and detecting motives that, like the pantomimed orange, may not really be there.

Because so much what we feel in life is inchoate and inexplicable, one of the great comforts of melodrama is seeing anguish made highly visible and treated as incontrovertibly warranted.

The Paragon of Animals, by Michael Koresky

Joel and Ethan Coen’s gallery of reprobates here are quite the opposite of what we would traditionally refer to as hero: feckless, loveless, aimless, murderous, weak-willed, greedy, or pathetic, and it’s unlikely that any of them could have sustained a feature-length narrative without delivering viewers directly to the exits. But what makes the Coen’s gambit work so brilliantly is that these discrete tales of the banal and the cursed accumulate into a single, unified work that is much stronger, stranger, and sadder than initially seems possible.

Dime-store novels are a good reference point for the Coens, whose rich, occasionally florid and grotesque style conceals hard moral centers — if never certitude.

However gratifyingly breakneck their pacing and clean their visual lines of action, one would be forgiven for watching these first two chapters and wondering what in heckfire the Coens are really on about. The depths of their vision begin to come into focus in the third part, […]

Private Life, by Sheila O’Malley

One of Jenkins’s gifts as a screenwriter is her ability to ground Rachel and Richard in their intimate specifics of their lives — their jobs, their apartment, their passions.

Wildlife, by Steven Mears

Whenever you think you have it clocked, Dano’s sometimes frustrating, always fascinating screenplay bends away from you, proceeding with confident restraint in its embrace of stillness and silence.

The Guilty, by April Wolfe

Moller delivers a compelling narrative by artfully concealing bald truths until the very last possible second. But The Guilty subverts expectations by complicating the crime drama convention that the tough-talking guy who breaks through the bureaucracy to get the job done is always the hero.

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