NYFF ’18 Review: Even When Personal to a Fault, ‘Roma’ is Cuarón’s Masterpiece—and the Best Movie of the Year

If you notice one thing about Roma, it will likely be its size. It’s a big, big, big movie, with landscapes that extend out into infinity, scenes that seem to last forever, and emotions so wide and deep they could swallow you whole like a well. It makes sweeping political commentary, shows births and deaths and poverty and heartbreak, focuses on the vastness of the ocean and the sky. Its camera likes to slowly sweep left and right, constantly looking outward and upward.

Through all this big-screen grandeur, it would be so easy for Roma to drown itself in itself—and in less skilled hands, it may have done just that. But with Alfonso Cuarón at the helm, creating the most personal work of his entire career, Roma is as sharply focused and intimate as it is grand, and it never for an instant loses sight of the woman at its center.

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Yalitza Aparicio in ‘Roma’ © Netflix

That woman is Cleo (played by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), a young, indigenous Mexican maid to an upper-middle-class family living in Mexico City in 1970, a time of state-sponsored violence against political dissidents. Cleo is thoughtful and deliberate, always tending to the needs of her employers, Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and their four children. But she is also keenly aware of her own needs and limitations, even as the line between work and life becomes more and more blurred.

Language creates an almost helpful boundary—Cleo speaks Spanish in Sofia’s home, but slips back into her native Mixtec with her friends and fellow maid Adela (Nancy García) in their little apartment above the garage. She and Adela find joy in each other’s company and do all the sorts of things young women do together—race through the city streets to get lunch, go to movies with their boyfriends, and exercise and gossip by candlelight every night so as not to waste electricity and disturb Sofia’s mother, Teresa (Verónica García). Even when surrounded by sequences of high drama, these small scenes of tender normalcy are some of the film’s most mesmerizing. Continue reading “NYFF ’18 Review: Even When Personal to a Fault, ‘Roma’ is Cuarón’s Masterpiece—and the Best Movie of the Year”

NYFF ’18 Review: ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ is a Wild, Witty, and Hollow Patchwork

Tim Blake Nelson in 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs' © Annapurna

Gather ‘round, folks, because the Coen Brothers have another tale to tell—six tales, in fact. With their anthology project The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the pair revisit some well-tread ground—death, greed, and comedy in the Old West—through a series of storybook vignettes that are just as violent (and twice as witty) as any Grimm fairytale. None of the film’s individual chapters achieve anything the directors haven’t already given us in spades, but the pieces come together to form an intriguing, if somewhat hollow, collection, resembling more of a patchwork quilt from a forgotten civilization than a feature-length Hollywood film.

Tim Blake Nelson in ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ © Annapurna

Continue reading “NYFF ’18 Review: ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ is a Wild, Witty, and Hollow Patchwork”

NYFF ‘18 Review: ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’

Chinese director-writer Bi Gan’s second feature, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, which premiered at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard, is set in Kaili like his first feature Kaili Blues. The film has nothing in common with Eugene O’Neill’s play by the same name or with the film’s Chinese title Last Evenings on Earth, a short story collection by Roberto Bolaño. They’re both just amongst many literary and artistic references that are scattered throughout the film.

Protagonist Luo Hongwa (Huang Jue) gives to us one of the central mysteries of the film by questioning the reality of fragmented memories in the first scene, as he reminisces about a love affair he had many years ago. Throughout the film, we’re never sure if what we’re seeing is a memory or a dream, reality or plays of Hongwa’s subconscious. The first 70 minutes of the film delve into that love affair between Luo and Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei), a woman straight out of a femme fatale section of a character trope book. There are ambiguous plotlines about their mutual friend Wildcat’s murder, Luo’s father’s restaurant, a green book, but none of them reach somewhere. They’re more like part of the flow than devices that advance or enrich the story.

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NYFF ‘18 Review: ‘The Wild Pear Tree’

Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s long awaited new film The Wild Pear Tree premiered at Cannes this year. Its near 190-minute runtime might be scary for audiences that are not familiar with Ceylan’s work, but it is merely a surprise to cognizant audiences. However, the film has such a captivating flow that the viewers might not even perceive the passing of three hours – it is definitely more entertaining than his last film Winter Sleep which was also over three hours. Unlike his previous films which were decorated with elegant images of nature, The Wild Pear Tree is visually more raw; less pastoral beauty and more crooked landscapes that people live in. The shots are still representative of the director’s distinctive poeticism, and the brutal landscapes are the perfect reflections of the subject matter that is the deeply rooted in the suffocating anxiety spread across the young people of Turkey.

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NYFF ‘18 Review: ‘Wildlife’ is a Family Portrait Without Judgement

Children see themselves and their parents as parts of a single whole we call family. Some children realise later in life, as adults, the individuality of the parts that make up the family. In other cases, they’re forced to realise this when the whole collapses. A child is in one of the most helpless states they can be when they have to watch that collapse, witnessing everything that’ll contribute to the outcome that they somehow know is about to happen. A child cannot choose sides between two people who they once thought were a whole, and as we watch Wildlife through the eyes of a child in the middle of a collapsing marriage, director Paul Dano asks us, very delicately, not to choose sides either.

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NYFF ‘18 Review: ‘Her Smell’ is a Riot in Full, Glorious Swing with Elisabeth Moss at the Helm

It reeks, it lingers. Her Smell invades, it threatens, it’s aggressive and it’s dirty, draining. It’s a riot in full swing. Yet amidst the assumed chaos, it becomes tender and honest, an exploration into addiction and the punk rock scene of the 90s, but even more so into identity. What can be repaired after not only hurting the ones we love, but ourselves in the process?

Alex Ross Perry’s five-act tale of rockstar rampage and recovery is unapologetic and unpredictable, proving to be one of my favorite and one of the most exciting films I’ve seen this year. It was borne out of Perry’s incessant need to not only explore multiple act structure (after being inspired by the three act structure of Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs and by Shakespeare), but push the envelope on his creative relationship with Elisabeth Moss. The pair had previously worked together on 2015’s Queen of Earth, similarly dark and ruptured. Her Smell raises the bar and sails clean over it.

The role of Becky Something, our enigmatic, perpetually inebriated, crass, and readily dislikable star was written completely for Moss. When she smiles, it’s more with wickedness and less with joy. We know little about her rise to the top. It is only shown in bits and pieces through the home videos played before each act, and all about her ruin.

Continue reading “NYFF ‘18 Review: ‘Her Smell’ is a Riot in Full, Glorious Swing with Elisabeth Moss at the Helm”

Fall 2018: Female Directors

Unlike this summer, female representation behind the camera is being overshadowed this fall by the Ruben Fleischers, Damien Chazelles, and Bryan Singers. While you can’t expect many women-helmed movies at your local theatre, they’ll be making lots of noise on the festival circuit. Along with a description of the theatrical releases to look out for, this piece compiles a list of the female-directed feature films screening at major film festivals. Listing every film at every fall festival would make for an article as long as Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, so we trust our readers will be on the lookout for women filmmakers at their local festivals, as well as documentary and short films directed by women. All film descriptions are from press materials and all theatrical release dates are for the United States. 

Theatrical releases:

September 21 – NAPPILY EVER AFTER dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour

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Violet has it all: the perfect job, the perfect relationship and the perfect hair. Until an accident at her hair salon makes her realize she’s not living life to the fullest. This romantic comedy, starring Sanaa Lathan, is based on the novel of the same name by Trisha R. Thomas

September 28 – LITTLE WOMEN dir. Clare Niederpruem 

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A modern retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel follows the lives of the same sisters we know so well — Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March — and detailing their passage from childhood to womanhood. Despite harsh times, they cling to optimism, and as they mature, they face blossoming ambitions, relationships, and tragedy, while maintaining their unbreakable bond.

Continue reading “Fall 2018: Female Directors”