Directed by Pedro CostaPortugal | 2000
Subtly, Costa is raising a correlation between this mindless form of destruction as political and economic “progress” and the more personal form of self-destructive drug abuse witnessed in the characters, in its own perverse way a route to satisfaction and fulfillment. Both are careless and reprehensible, but in Costa’s sublimely sympathetic vision the addicts seem almost justifiable in comparison to such an abstract political affair that would blindly annihilate an entire community of human beings for the supposed betterment of the greater good. In Vanda’s Room, then, is not as laissez-faire as its cinema vérité trappings might lead it to seem, but rather works as an understated indictment of these wrongheaded government attitudes.
Directed by Debra GranikUnited States | 2010
Winter’s Bone capitalizes on the dilapidation of its locales and the rich, allusive history behind them, evoking a mythological antiquity. Indeed, the Jungian/Campbellian Odyssey link nearly writes itself. Each house that Ree visits is guarded by a kind of gatekeeper, always the females, protecting the potential answer to the mysteries within. Each location gets more frightening; the first is rather benign, but the second finds Ree meeting her uncle, Teardrop (an inscrutable John Hawkes who earns his Oscar nom in a magnificently ambiguous role), who violently lashes out when she pleads with him to help her, even though he relents and later becomes her guardian angel.
Directed by Debra GranikUnited States | 2010
To be sure, Winter’s Bone, by virtue of its bleak subject matter, chilly landscape shots and spare bluegrass soundtrack, continues a long line of grim Americana that has been in vogue in American independent quarters for a while now (Frozen River, Snow Angels, etc.). As a result, I approached this film with a smidgen of skepticism, ready to be somewhat irritated by a melodramatically sustained air of despair and grief. But while Granik’s film is indeed relentlessly dark and unforgiving, it manages this in an utterly convincing manner, forging a deep-seated sense of oppression and desperation that is inseparable from both the locale and the troubling scenario.
Directed by Lukas MoodyssonSweden, Denmark | 2002
Moodysson’s talent for instantly humanizing his characters is apparent from the get-go. Like the two girls in Åmål or the entire cast in Together, Lilya feels like an utterly genuine, 3-dimensional human being throughout. Many directors can feign naturalism with faux-documentary style film-making and faux-improvised acting, but often it just serves to highlight the artifice behind the production. Moodysson, even though he also uses the hand-held camera and improvisational techniques himself, realizes that the real truth doesn’t come from any quasi-realism, but from the core of the characters as portrayed by the actors.
Directed by Luis BuñuelMexico | 1950
Housed in a strong narrative, what is impressive about Buñuel’s film is how far-reaching his commentary is while dealing with this small troupe of characters. If this film, one of his first after having left Europe for Mexico in the late 1940s, lacks much of the sly humour of his later work it certainly maintains all the barbs. The world of Los Olvidados is one where the parents are little better than the children and where the fundamental trust which gels society together is undone and useless.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1970
…this was one of the most radical experiments with color on film up to this point, perhaps an estranged cousin to Antonioni’s Red Desert. Much like that film, the brilliant use of color here is marked primarily by its variety and diversity. In some sections Kurosawa uses mostly natural light to render the slums as nastily as they are, but elsewhere he uses color like leitmotifs, as in assigning red and yellow to the two drunks, their wives and their houses so the viewer is never confused as to which one is sleeping where and with whom. Occasionally he’ll cast an image in a static, low-contrast, deep-focus shot; elsewhere creating chiaroscuros with spotlights penetrating the darkness.
Directed by Akira KurosawaJapan | 1965
This film also marks the end of a very long, productive phase for Kurosawa—infancy as a film artist through middle-age—and the beginning of the old man, whose grammar would regress to childhood with 1970’s Dodes’kaden before a failed suicide attempt would spur him towards one of his greatest critical achievements, a masterpiece of colossal bitterness, Ran. Of course, Mifune’s lips are really the master’s, and even by 1965 he hadn’t decided whether humanity was worth salvation or not. Here, the answer is yes. By the time of Ran, affirmatively ‘no’.