Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Two More Movie Recommendations

Coming soon after my rave for "Compartment No 6", currently in theaters, which noted that "sitting in a movie theater watching a not-super-popular movie not-on-a-Friday/Saturday-night is the greatest degree of social isolation you can experience outside your living room", here is one film in theatrical release, and another streaming on Amazon Prime.

"A Hero" is now streaming free on Amazon Prime. It's by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, who is one of the most consistent directors on my favorites list. And he's done it again.

I don't like to discuss plot, or even the setting or genre, of my movie/TV recommendations. I made my argument here, concluding
If you're still making your viewing choices based on genre ("I like shows about plucky millennials but dislike science fiction"), you are a reactionary force, pulling things back to 1978. If you really value art that transcends, why embrace the damned launching pad?
I don't care about the yadda yadda; I care about what they DO with it. If Nazi film maker Leni Riefenstahl (who was GREAT, by the way) were alive to make, in her old age, a film humanizing an Auschwitz guard, showing his sensitive side via charming vignettes in his off-work home life acting like a doting husband and father, I'd be just as offended as you by the proposition, but would watch the hell out of the film. I'm all in on artistic expression of every stripe and from every perspective, bar none. Art uber alles, baby.

Sorry for side-tracking. Neither of these films is controversial. I'm just explaining why it doesn't matter to me what happens, where it happens, or which previous films had previous things happening in similar places. It's the 21st century; get with the program!

"A Hero" is an efficiently-packed, tightly-written very serious Greek comedy, described by the NY Times' A.O. Scott as having the "density and observational acuity of a 19th-century three-decker." A great comparison, but I'd add that an acute and observant 19th-century three-decker is just what's needed in these fuzzy indulgent times. A tall glass of ice water in hell.

In this film, everyone gets screwed, though everyone does their best. Every single character, without exception, acts reasonably, defensively, even sympathetically if viewers can wedge minds open enough to fully consider the perspectives. Yet, again, everyone gets screwed. It's like an impossible Escher painting, where the roads lead to impossible, yet ultimately inevitable, places. The ending is the only one possible, though phenomenally undeserved from every angle. What a fantastic movie.

Moviegoers love/need to choose sides. A favorite they can identify with. If you indulge in this way, everyone else in the movie will seem like a jerk, a shyster, a monster. Petty bits of bad judgement and minor transgressions - and stoic unwillingness to easily toss aside self interest to empower your favorite character (as happens in movies) - makes this a most uncinematic film.

But "A Hero" bucks the eternal rule of cinema: the audience's point-of-view character must serve as fulcrum. Here, just once, it's not like that. These are all full-fledged humans with full-fledged lives and interests, none existing simply to thwart or enable the protagonist. This is, then, a movie about actual reality, which explains why it's been poorly understood. We're all well-versed in simplistic movie logic. Reality, though, is poorly understood.

Don't miss Farhadi's previous two oscar winning films: “A Separation” (rentable everywhere) and “The Salesman” (streaming free on Amazon Prime).

Nobody's ever made a good movie about meditation. Watching some dude, however charismatically bearded, zone out on a cushion doesn't show you anything. What he's doing is not "for show" (unless he's bad at it, in which case his tortured twitchiness will be hilarious). So, instead, spiritually ambitious filmmakers fall into cliché with winsome broad-stroke shots, held for a poignantly long while, to, like, foster the viewer's soft-heartedness. Really look at this waterfall, man! Really LOOK AT IT!

"Velvet Queen", currently in theaters (probably, alas, like twelve of them) isn't for everyone, but it's an admirable inroad. It's nominally a nature documentary set in the Tibetan wilderness, with beautiful filmmaking that's more than just winsome shots held for "calm-the-fuck-down" lengths, centering on legendary French nature photographer Marie Amiguet and his inquiring Watson-ish companion, writer Sylvain Tesson.

At one level, these seem like the usual intellectually pretentious French aesthetes. But if you can get past that (not everyone will), you'll soon realize they're not full of crap. Amiguet's got some illumination going on (and a lifetime of superb achievement to back him up). And Tesson isn't as boorish as you'd first expect, despite his voiceover confession of impatient weariness he'd never confess to the infinitely patient, infinitely stoic Amiguet, who never found a frozen tundra he didn't hanker to to lie upon silently all day awaiting a fox or raven to appear before his lens....or, just as good, maybe not.

The film has real poetry, even with the inevitable Fraaaaaaaaaaaanch weightiness, and its laughable shape-giving "lucky stroke" of finding precisely what it's looking for just as the two prepare to pack it all up and fly back to Paris. 

Amiguet's singular perspective, teased out and articulated in Tesson's voice-over, combined with co-director Marie Amiguet's sumptuous, heartfelt camera work, and the beautiful but diligently non-grabby score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - plus some distinctive shots of animals and landscape quite unlike anything you've seen before - make this not only a terrific film, but one that actually offers a taste of meditative silence.

I hate to say that. You can't get to nothingness - to silence - through somethingness. Immersing in objects won't prompt you to flip perspective and identify with pure subjectivity, which is what meditation is ideally about. But one must let go before one can flip, and this is one of the best letting-go films ever created (most hold on tightly to their flamboyant letting-go message).

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