Pirjo Honkasalo’s new film Concrete Night centres on Simo, a 14 year-old boy who lives with his detached mother and prison-bound brother, Ilkka, in a Helsinki high rise. The material of the building, as well as the other featured parts of the city, is concrete, and director Honkasalo has shot everything in black and white, because, life is bleak. The film opens with a symbolic dream in which Simo fights for air inside a submerged train car, a la Fellini’s 8 ½.
At its best, the film explores implications of Simo’s sexual curiosity for a man living in the opposite building, and how this conflicts with a desire to be like his thuggish brother. His ideas of how to be a man, learned from Ilkka in the absence of actual parenting, are what give rise to the story’s tragedy.
The film at its most problematic attempts to deal explicitly with Life’s Big Questions, as if Simo was asking: Ilkka tells him that living without hope is the most free way of living; the man in the opposite building, appearing out of nowhere, explains to him that “there are two things in this world: love and fear” (perhaps another art film reference, this time to Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko?). These contrived moments in Concrete Nights weigh down the socio-economic and domestic themes which work more naturally, and do not need to be shown in black and white to be understood by the audience. — EF
Only Lovers Left Alive
In authentic Jarmuschian fashion, nothing really happens in Only Lovers Left Alive. It also might be his best film yet. It’s perfectly content with its lack of conventional conflict and allows for the combination of a few of Jarmusch’s favourite things, including music, scepticism, apathy, and the burden of good taste. The opening sequence says it all: a vast night sky melting into a shot of a rotating record playing Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love.” Jarmusch’s musings on eternity are always blunted by hipness, cynicism, and a healthy dose of banality.
The lovers are Adam and Eve, played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton in an otherworldly stroke of casting genius. They’re as deeply in love today as they were some untold lifetimes ago. Adam is a jaded shut-in with few connections to the outside world, namely a scruffily glamorous old Jaguar coupe and an everyman roadie type named Ian. Eve spends her days in Tangier with Kit Marlowe (yes, the very same), still fascinated by the minutiae of life and extracting small joys from the world around her, like dancing and loving unreservedly.
After some time apart, the couple reunite in a nearly lifeless Detroit, a prime vantage point from which to observe the decline of a civilization. Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux’s Tangier forms an interesting counterpart as a bewitching landscape of warmly lit corridors and haunting soundscapes.
As they drive around the city by night and fall asleep in one another’s arms, Adam and Eve’s familiar ease is pure and unchanging in the midst of an antagonizing world. Jarmusch isn’t interested in the grandeur of forever; his gaze is focussed on the everyday reality of a life and a love which knows no end. Only Lovers Left Alive is unhurried to the point of near-flatline because that’s what immortality must really be like: languid, heavy, and a bit of a bore. — EH
The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears
Every art form contains a host of tools that, if used inventively, can exploit and exhibit new ways of perceiving the medium. In pushing the filmic medium’s possibilities to the absolute limit, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s The Strange Colour of your Body’s Tears is a resounding success. To claim that the film harkens back to the “giallo” murder mystery aesthetics of 1970s Italy is only partially correct, as it aligns itself more with Suspiria than with Deep Red.
The ingredients are simple: a man returns to his apartment to find that his wife has disappeared. As he searches for her, he uncovers some nasty secrets about his residence. The deeper he falls into an alcohol-fueled fit of depression, the more disorienting his descent becomes.
As an exercise in audiovisual style, it is difficult to think of another recent picture outside of Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void that has assaulted its audience so rabidly. Unlike Noé’s work; however, Tears is playful. Cattet and Forzani relish the opportunity to flex their cinematic chops, throwing the kitchen sink and its piping into their surrealistic aesthetic. Knives scrape at a timbre that pierces the ears, sudden cuts mutilate the film screen and divide it into tattered quarters, and extended dirges into its protagonist’s dreamscape reveal a manic yet detailed attention to lighting, framing, and set placement. Though it passes from obsessiveness to full-on lunacy very early on, there is still a sense of meaningfulness in its obfuscated plot. — NG
Young & Beautiful
What constitutes independence and adulthood? In Young & Beautiful, the latest in François Ozon’s often transgressive and always provocative oeuvre, the development of and gradual control over one’s own sexuality is the point from which transformations from adolescence into adulthood germinate.
Divided into four chapters corresponding to the seasonal cycle, Ozon shifts not only the tone of his film, but also manipulates the formal elements of its construction. Four songs outline his protagonist’s growth, and colour schemes will shift from warm primary patterns to icy cool blues depending on the segment. As Isabelle (Marine Vacth) loses her virginity in the summer, she also loses a piece of her innocence. Transgressing a kind of naivety into experience, we soon see the grand awakening of her dormant sexuality when she becomes a prostitute.
Though the story itself is simple, its exposition feels distanced. There are a number of debates that might be raised by the apparent flippancy Ozon displays in the treatment of his subject matter. Emphasis on apparent is necessary, for there is too much at work in this surprisingly comic and casual drama to peg Isabelle and her “whorish ways” as a kind of vamp characteristic. The picture often targets stereotypes of the genre — the wayward woman in need of redemption being the most obvious — and plays them down. It is difficult to tell whether this empowers or removes agency from Vacth, but one certainty is the young actress’s future. This is a film worth watching, if only to see a powerhouse breakout performance. — NG