The story behind Closer to the Moon is so bizarre and bleakly funny that it’s difficult to make sense of it. Working with an English-speaking cast, Romanian filmmaker Nae Caranfil dramatizes the escapades of Ioanid Gang, a band of Romanian-Jewish intellectuals who subverted the Communist State with a bank robbery. The details of the robbery are theatrical, not violent, and there’s a surreal quality to its aftermath since the Party tries to make an example of them and fails. There are no heroics, and the gang are too realistic to think they’re martyrs. Instead, they achieve grace through black humor, which is sublime and defiant in its own right.
A significant percentage of audiences will avoid White God, the new Hungarian film by Kornél Mundruczó, because they have too much empathy for it. The phrase “dog revenge fantasy” describes the film in a crude way, although that only hints at its intensity. Before they enact their revenge, the dogs are put through several forms of cruelty. Pet-owners are not the only people who have trouble with on-screen animal suffering. Many of us project feeling and emotion onto our furry friends, so our imaginations go into overdrive when they feel pain. While White God is not an easy film, it also plays fair with the audience, so its allegorical climax is extraordinary.
A Girl Like Her starts on a note of exploitative ugliness, and never recovers. This film is the nadir of the “fake documentary” genre: it has absolutely nothing interesting to say, and instead it aspires to manipulate the audience with mean-spirited tactics. Writer/director Amy S. Weber tries to sidestep the inherent flaws of her premise with a smarmy perspective, one that goes through the motions of compassion, so she fails to inspire anything effective or genuine. She has zero interest in character development or dialogue, and her actors merely serve as avatars for an unearned argument that lacks nuance or any understanding of human behavior. The only emotion this film will provoke is contempt.
There’s choreography in classical piano that can seem a little childish. When a player starts and stops a note, the way they move their arm/torso around the finger has a small, perceptible impact on the note’s quality and timbre. I played piano for years – I stopped when I was eighteen – and I always thought sighing into the keyboard (or whatever) was silly. Not only was I dead wrong, but immature about it, too. Part of the joy of Seymour: An Introduction, the new documentary directed by Ethan Hawke, is that goes deep into the virtue of practice, and how it intertwines with talent. Many documentaries are about creative people; this is one of the few that is also about creativity.
It Follows is the best pure horror film in years, maybe even a decade. It does not deconstruct genre conventions like Cabin in the Woods or Resolution, and it does not use genre as an opportunity for allegory like The Babadook. There is some angst over teenage sexual hysteria, yet that’s a red herring in comparison to writer/director David Robert Mitchell’s greater purpose. Through the sheer power of his premise and his strength as a filmmaker, It Follows aspires to do no more than thoroughly creep out its audience.
In modern video games, players experiment with rudimentary artificial intelligence. In role-playing games or simulations, for example, the player is given the opportunity to imbue his or her avatar with a personality. This aspect of play is interesting because it quantifies traits with numbers (e.g. I might give my character 3 points of aggression and 5 of curiosity). Eva, a Spanish fiction science-film that was originally released in its home country years ago, imagines robotics and artificial intelligence as a similar kind of experiment. Director Kike Maíllo and his four screenwriters mix seamless special effects with a domestic drama, but given the low stakes of the conflict, this is the sort of exercise that is more thought-provoking than involving.