Alex Sitaras: April brings us the long-awaited You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsay), a film that premiered at Cannes last year but is just now coming to US theaters. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as a combat veteran and former FBI agent with PTSD, presently acting as a rescuer of trafficked girls. Phoenix’s physical presence has been praised highly in the film, himself winning the Best Actor Award at Cannes for his performance. The film also delves into his character’s troubled past, creating a portrait of a barely-hinged, Hulk of a character.
Ian Floodgate: As much as I do enjoy Phoenix’s work as an actor I was also really excited to see You Were Never Really Here for another reason and that’s because it’s directed by Lynne Ramsay. I thought her direction and visual style in We Need To Talk About Kevin was very compelling. I heard some people say that it was a book that wasn’t really written to be filmed but I think she made a very thought-provoking adaptation so to see her taking on another is very intriguing. In fact, I decided to read the novella written by Jonathan Ames before watching it and I found it really engaging and couldn’t wait to see the film. Like you say, it’s a shame we’ve had to wait for so long but finally, it’s here.
Another film finally taking its stateside bow after appearing at Cannes is The Rider (dir. Chloé Zhao). I didn’t really know much about the film until it was nominated for Best Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards last year. It looks a to be a very quiet and understated coming of age story about a young cowboy who suffers a severe head injury.
Alex: The Rider is Chloé Zhao’s second film, her debut being Songs My Brothers Taught Me, a film about life at a Native American resort that I thoroughly enjoyed. Also a coming-of-age story for a young man. Zhao looks to continue the excellent start of her career with The Rider and continues to focus on aspects of American life that aren’t commonly seen in movies. Family, and conflict that emerges even within a loving family, also looks to be a component important to The Rider. From what we’ve seen so far of Zhao, she reminds me of Andrew Haigh as a director- talented with dialogue and in creating heartfelt moments that are able to relate to viewers who aren’t familiar with the lifestyles of their film’s characters.
Another film that interests me this month is Lucrecia Martel‘s Zama. It is her first film in almost a decade, which explains why I am familiar with her name but have not read much recent critical analysis of her work. Zama is a historical fiction film that takes place in the 18th century and follows the experience of the eponymous Spanish officer as he awaits a transfer from Asunción to Buenos Aires. The film looks to have some elements of a dry comedy (see: llama scene!), although boredom and frustration are sure to pay a toll on Zama. On the technical side, the film is beautifully shot and lit with individual folds of clothing and detail in actors’ faces clear. The film, like Albert Serra‘s similarly ornate The Death of Louis XIV, might not gain much attention outside the festival circuit and film critics, but if that’s the crowd you keep, Zama looks to be a must-watch.
Ian: I agree the aesthetics of the film are very appealing. From watching the trailer there seems to be a lot of gorgeously composed shots. The film looks very exotic almost to the point that it makes me want to book a holiday to Formosa, where it was filmed. I think it’s great that a film with this sort of story has elements of dry comedy. I think more filmmakers could attempt combining humor with artistry and it certainly looks like Lucrecia Martel has found a wonderful mix between the two with Zama.
Another South American director that has attempted comedy before is Sebastian Lelio, who has his English language debut Disobedience being released later this month. Though Gloria had some laugh out loud moments, Disobedience looks to be more of a strictly dramatic film. It tells the story of a woman who returns to a Jewish community that once shunned her. The film also explores faith and sexuality.
Coming off the back of A Fantastic Woman and Gloria I can see why high-profile actors would want to work with Lelio, and with recognizable casting in Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams hopefully this will draw a wider audience to his work.
Alex: I’m really not sure what to expect as far as Disobedience‘s success in America, especially coming so soon after A Fantastic Woman… which was an unlikely success in itself given subject matter that is controversial to many Americans. Regardless, Lelio is already hard at work on his next film and the past few years have been a productive period for him, just as they have been for his fellow countryman Pablo Larraín (The Club, Jackie, Neruda). The fact that Disobedience is Lelio’s English language debut is exciting since it increases the variety of actors and actresses he may choose to work with.
One thing that interests me in Disobedience is just how similar in appearance and wardrobe that Weisz and McAdams are for the film. I can’t help but think that that is intentional given that characters typically look different from their costars to avoid confusion. I’m excited to see Weisz in this role since she’s had her ups and downs the past few years after coming off of strong successes in The Lobster and Youth. As far as McAdams, I’m happy she continues to work in independent and foreign productions. It’s a shout of endorsement when an A-list actress stars in a smaller production from an auteur director.
Ian: Lastly this month is the highly anticipated Criterion Collection release of Sergei Parajanov‘s The Color of Pomegranates. This stylized masterpiece tells the story of the Armenian poet Sayat Nova and depicts his life visually and abstractly as opposed to a conventionally-told narrative. The film has been through quite a journey to get to its latest restoration. After being originally released in 1969, it was recut and banned in the former Soviet Union. What I am most looking forward to is seeing the striking visuals of this film being enhanced in 4K. I particularly like how the film is told as a homage to the poet’s life using music and impressionistic images. It’s a very hypnotic and captivating watch that will only be more appreciated by its recent restoration.
Alex: I saw the film myself this past week and it’s quite a unique watch. It’s almost easier to think of the film as a series of animated paintings rather than a movie since the film is broken up into ~8-12 parts that each consist of a scene in the poet’s life. Visual motifs such as tapestry, books, and water are repeated and certain concepts such as death and ritual/ceremony are frequently alluded to or shown. The film is sparse in dialogue, choosing to let the intertitles that separate the film into parts tell the story. In that way, the film doesn’t set itself too far apart from silent cinema. Due to the religious and cultural references unique to the poet’s life, the film reminds me most of how I felt when watching The Holy Mountain. The film is a lot to take in for a first time viewing, but at the same time holds many admirers from the likes of Antonioni, Mikhail Vartanov, and Scorsese (who is responsible for this restoration).