14. Appropriate Behaviour
A fascinating parallel narrative exists at the core of Appropriate Behaviour. One, following the embryonic beginnings of a same sex relationship between two women, the other following the aftermath of that relationship, with the rejected party clamouring to pick up the pieces. This is compelling unto itself, yet there is also compelling insight into the American immigrant experience, religious tradition versus homosexuality, and an earnest coming of age tale in the form of a twenty-something learning to live on her own stead.
Desiree Akhavan, who also writes and directs the film, is sensational in the lead role of Shirin, a young woman who has wound up back living with her conservative parents after her lesbian relationship has fallen apart. Left with oblivious parents, unaware of the nature of her former relationship, Shirin turns the unlikely role of teaching a youth film class to earn money. Unintentionally, she finds a kind of saving grace in this sense of purpose.
It is a film born of the many very different relationships fostered by Shirin- her tormenting ex, her irreverent brother, her Mother in denial, her students who give her hope, and eventually with herself. The film’s ending is somewhat indefinite, yet rather hopeful. All in all, the comedy is merely a vehicle for the many relevant messages presented here.
13. Wild Tales
Wild Tales is gleefully sadistic and silly anthology film that may well leave you grinning from ear to ear, not to mention feeling partially guilty for doing so.
Opening with a brutally clever tale of revenge in the skies, these are stories of mankind at its basest, its rawest, and its most ironically humorous. There is a moral dilemma involving a despised restaurant patron, his young son, and a generous dose of rat poison. It poses a question, how far would you go in avenging the ruin of your family? What morality is surrendered with such a revenge?
There is also a flat tyre, leading to a lethal roadside dispute. In a devastatingly candid fight sequence, the two roadside men do everything in their power to kill one another. As expected, it ends more than a little grimly. The sequence will linger with you.
The fact that Wild Tales ends on a stunningly upbeat note is emblematic of its delicate ability to balance laughter and glee with it’s pitch black subject matter. This is, after all, black comedy rather than melodrama; cinematic style rather than formalism. You may well find Wild Tales to be a bafflingly uplifting film.
As bizarrely executed an art film as you will ever see, yet a focused one. Jauja is almost spooky in its resolve to its odd style and its focus to the kind of tone it wishes to uphold. Imagine the film as consisting of a series of medium wide angle still photographs which seem to come to life in time, when you realise that the actors are initially virtually motionless, then begin expressionistically acting. There is an air of tragedy and it is consistently effective, even if it may leave you clamouring to decipher why.
The plot revolves around a senior military man who has taken a job in a new land, only to have his beautiful daughter run off with a lover. Believing with good reason that she may be in danger, he begins a long, spiritual quest to find her, only to find joy always tragically one step ahead of him. The mood is sinister as the soldier finds nothing but himself, and the scenarios he faces become ever more violent.
The ending is as exciting as it beguiling, both random and fitting all at once. It has to be seen to be believed.
Female sexuality. It is terrifying to some. It has been the subject of horror lore for decades. Yet, comedic portrayals of female recklessness often fall short and come across as overly soft. There is little doubting that a disparity still exists in the way men and women are portrayed onscreen, that women are simply assumed onscreen to be inherently more conventional then men in their romantic desires. Many may feel that a great comedy about female romantic apathy has yet to be found.
Search no more.
Aside from awkward sexual encounters with wrestler John Cena, there is nothing necessarily presented here that isn’t standard practice in portrayals of men; yet these conventions seem remarkable when simply applied to a female protagonist. An inability to commit to a relationship, choosing sex over love, sleeping with somebody and never calling them again, and a general romantic apathy- all of these things are still very shocking to find in a female character. This film represents the simple indie done right.
You may find the ending may be a tad conventional, but the characters have earned it.
10. 45 Years
A sensational British film that stuns without ever portraying a single extravagant moment ever being portrayed onscreen. There are no gunshots or explosions, there is scarcely even any raised voices to be heard. Indeed, like a truly great indie film should, it stuns just on the basis of great characters, dialogue, and a delicious premise.
Charlotte Rampling plays Kate Mercer, a former school teacher happily married and approaching her 45th wedding anniversary. She seemingly has it all. Until, that is, her faithful husband learns that they have found the frozen body of his lost love, lost 50 years prior. With this, the perfect marriage is upended.
We witness here one of the most powerful horror of all- spousal neglect. it is a subtle horror that finds its way into the smallest moments- kitchen table disagreements, a devastating slow dance and, perhaps most powerful of all, a trip into an attic to see old photos.
This is the very finest of British cinema, anchored by two of its longest serving stars.
Girlhood is a remarkable balancing act of an indie masterpiece. It is never condescending to teen culture, only showing how it can both bring young girls so close together yet drive them so far apart. It does not blindly condemn gang mentality, more explains how vulnerable teens came succumb to peer pressure in order to belong in alienating environments. Most of all, it never condemns its young protagonist as stupid or listless, the film respects her struggle and understands both her pain and decisions.
The film is visually remarkable. From dazzling nightclub scenes, to extended close-ups, to a fantastic two-shot of a romantic exchange, Girlhood never misses a visual beat. It does a good job of using its locations to create a dingy sense of a battle ground- empty skate parks and subway tracks in particular- yet finds a strange beauty in those same locations also.
It is, for the most part, a film made up of small moments. Young friends giddily bonding on a bed, singing on the subway, dancing in housing estates, and romantic moments in a city at night. These are the moments, the film suggests, that make a woman of its protagonist Marieme. Furthermore, these same traits make a compelling film for the audience.
8. Ex Machina
A reclusive billionaire, a frustrated middle class employee, and a cyborg woman. What initially sounds like the beginning of a bad joke becomes an infectiously tense chamber piece, and a meditation on technology, gender politics, and human dignity. Privilege is certainly a recurring theme.
Domhnall Gleeson ably plays Caleb, the lowly employee sent to the residence of reclusive Nathan (Oscar Isaac) for reasons alien to him at the outset. Their exchanges are curt and telling. Usually involving Nathan eluding Caleb questioning as to the real reason things are being done, or dictating his own agenda. The two actors have a great chemistry in working off of each other, one that excels when the film becomes more sinister.
But, alas, Caleb is there to do a job. This is where Ava comes in. The film’s true star is newcomer Alicia Vikander who plays the AI Ava. She has both and innocence and a flirtatious streak, both a naive curiosity and an awareness of her sex appeal. Trapped in a room to be observed like a caged animal, the film centers around Caleb as he falls in love with the new being, and the new being as she seizes control of her destiny at all costs.
A gorgeously shot and compellingly acted, this chamber piece is a real thinker.