The celebrated Ann Hui tells the story of a Japanese photographer who returns to communist Vietnam three years after the war. His government handlers guide him through scenes of a thriving society, carefully curated for the outside world’s benefit. The cracks in the façade begin to show, however, when he tours a classroom where the kids are so starved for human contact that they swarm the stranger with a camera and beg to be held. A young city girl and her family then reveal to him the unlivable conditions on the streets that the regime wants to hide. For such an unabashedly political film, in which tragic violence can erupt at any moment, Hui avoids sentimentality by locating an outsider’s disorientation and helplessness in the face of the unfathomable.
Richard Harris plays an angry bruiser of a professional rugby player, caught up in the vicious business of a game where management treats his body as something to be bought and owned. Obsessed with his landlady (Rachel Roberts), he tries to force a relationship on her, despite her revulsion at his brutish ways. As Harris and Roberts fight to be seen as more than just objects, director Lindsay Anderson shows how dehumanization can become self-perpetuating, passed on from one wounded person to another.
MINARI’s Lee Isaac Chung made his first feature with his students in Kigali. Largely improvised with a cast of non-professional actors, it’s the story of two young friends, a Hutu and a Tutsi, navigating the aftermath of the genocide. One is looking to win back the trust of his family after abandoning them; the other wants to avenge his parents who were murdered. A powerfully empathetic film about breaking cycles of violence.
An old classmate recommended to me this strange, moving film about love and distance. A man transfers from Milan to Sicily in order to take a higher-paying specialized welding job, but he has to leave his fiancée behind. Olmi packs in so much longing into 77 minutes that the movie practically overflows, as this couple can only meet in letters, flashbacks, and fantasies. Trying to navigate the debilitating separation, they find that working harder to reach each other creates a new intimacy, but the ambiguous ending leaves you guessing whether they can ultimately survive this trial.
Todd Solondz has a truly disturbing ability to bring an audience to the furthest reaches of depravity and then force them to deal with the absurdity and humanity of what they find. In his sequel to HAPPINESS, he replaces that film’s brilliant actors with an entirely new, equally remarkable cast, adding to the sickening feeling that these dysfunctions are more universal than we’d like to think. Most poignantly, Michael K. Williams reveals new dimensions to the role Philip Seymour Hoffman made famous twelve years earlier; the counterpoint of these very different approaches to the same damaged character makes the loss of these two giants cut even deeper.
The Bri-terion Collection
I’m loving the Criterion Channel streaming service, so every week I’m going to share my favorite new find.