**** (out of 4)
Towards the end of Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion, a new “biopic” of the poet Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon), there’s a shot in which Dickinson is shown lying on her bed. The mood is not a relaxed one; she’s just been struck by a debilitating series of seizures, and in the next scene, she’ll end up passing away for good. What’s striking about this moment, however, is the combination of the anguish on Dickinson’s face, the foreshortened way her legs stand out in the foreground, and the way the bed fills the center of the frame: taken together, the whole image provides a very close imitation of Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna’s famous depiction of a dead Jesus in Cristo morto. It’s almost as though Dickinson, like Christ, has reached some form of transcendence through death.
Alas, if there’s just one thing Davies’ take on Dickinson teaches you, it’s that this transcendence is only attained after a lifetime of emotional and spiritual agony. Continue reading
** (out of 4)
The initial premise of Azawal Jacobs’ The Lovers is that the two protagonists, a married couple named Michael (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger), dislike each other so much that they’ve each resorted to cheating on the other. If you were just going by the opening scenes, however, you’d be hard-pressed to believe that either of them really enjoys being adulterous. On Michael’s side, after all, the movie gives us an image of his girlfriend Lucy (Melora Walters) wailing inconsolably, all while he resignedly leans his head against a wall in the background. And on Mary’s side, we watch as she gives her boyfriend Robert (Aidan Gillen) an awkward, somewhat exasperated embrace outside her workplace. Add the fact that these scenes are filmed with meditative long takes, and you have all the makings of a reincarnation of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura: a story where everyone wants love but never succeeds in getting it.
First impressions, however, can deceive, and the turn the story subsequently takes shows why. Continue reading
** ½ (out of 4)
Like countless movies before it, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman makes use of a “story within a story” device: the main characters, a married couple named Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), star in an Iranian production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. What at first distinguishes the film from preceding users of said device, however, is that its larger story initially doesn’t seem to have anything to do with what Miller wrote. Continue reading