Originally published by Sight & Sound, May 15, 2016
French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie made the proverbial splash at Cannes in 2013 with the Un Certain Regard standout Stranger by the Lake. The many laurels the film received in the months following constituted mainstream recognition of a major talent in world cinema – an unapologetic cinematic libertine whose half-dozen prior films casually triangulated European modernism, queer comedy and elements of classic genre cinema. With visceral efficiency, Stranger by the Lake consolidated these disparate threads into a gay cruising thriller pitting man versus man in a hunt for satisfaction as much as survival. Continue reading
Originally published by Sight & Sound, May 20, 2016
A work of resolute social consciousness, Brazilian filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho’s second feature and followup to his well-regarded Neighbouring Sounds (2012) is at once a refinement and a deepening of the social and stylistic preoccupations laid out so comprehensively in the critic-turned-director’s debut. Expansive yet focused, Aquarius confirms Mendonça’s commitment to Brazil’s middle-class populace – a caste otherwise underrepresented in international cinema – and asserts a newly evident skill for dramatic storytelling. Continue reading
Originally published in Film Comment, July/August 2016
Post-traumatic stress disorder may be a familiar presence in contemporary cinema, but it’s only one dramatic strand in Alice Winocour’s invigorating second feature. The French writer-director’s interest in genre—in this case, the thriller—is of a practical nature, concerned as much with craft as is with the particulars of plot.
Matthias Schoenaerts stars as Vincent, an aggrieved ex-soldier hired to protect Jessie (Diane Kruger), the wife of a wealthy Lebanese arms dealer. Disorder unfolds in a manner resembling its no-nonsense protagonist: chiseled and efficient, the film discards all extraneous gestures. The majority of the characters’ psychological development occurs through its three increasingly impressive setpieces: two in and around the secluded mansion where Vincent and Jessie spend their time cautiously considering each other’s intentions; and one in a parking lot where an attempted kidnapping devolves into a brutal, nerve-jangling shoot-out.
Refreshingly, little attempt is made to psychoanalyze Vincent, the cognitive effects of his condition instead rendered through handheld but precise camerawork and an intricate, disorienting sound mix. His and Jessie’s contrived situation likewise forgoes fortuitous romantic complications. Even the film’s ending is left to the viewer’s interpretation rather than neatly packaged with explication. With Disorder, Winocour has skillfully reconfigured established forms, calling upon the medium’s most elemental tools to prompt an intensely physical response. ♦
Originally published in Cinema Scope 67
At the dawn of the decade, a brief break appeared in the first wave of New Romanian Cinema. Though of similar historic and cinematic concern, a number of the films produced during this period—including Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Second Game (2013), Cristi Puiu’s Three Interpretation Exercises (2012), and The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (2010), by elder statesman Andrei Ujica—adopted formal strategies unique in relation to the work that had set the movement’s stylistic coordinates in the mid-’00s. Considering the recognizably austere, culturally interrogative output of these and other filmmakers in the years since (see, most impressively, Porumboiu’s The Treasure and Radu Muntean’s One Floor Below, both from 2015), these otherwise fleeting few years have arguably proven as crucial as they were initially deemed cursory—less a wake than an interlude portending an inevitable re-entrenchment. Continue reading