Trishna (Michael Winterbottom)
Trishna is Michael Winterbottom’s second adaptation of a Thomas Hardy, following his 1996 Jude, but while that film retained its period trappings and British locale, Trishna is a contemporary recasting of Tess of the d’Urbervilles set in India. This transfer has its benefits (there’s a travelogue quality to this country-spanning film that’s not to be discounted) and its drawbacks (moving the action from the English countryside, it’s lost much of its elemental power). Hardy’s plot is retained, for the most part, but Winterbottom gives the second half of the film an overheated vibe, out of In the Realm of the Senses. Here the film threatens to alienate audiences who have been drawn in my lilting music and pretty pictures, but it does credibly lift the tale to the realm of tragedy. What we end up with is lesser than Jude and certainly inferior to Polanski’s Tess adaptation, but still a damn fine adult romantic drama nonetheless.
House of Tolerance (Bertrand Bonello)
Early in House of Tolerance a patron of the titular French brothel observes that the place never changes. “It changes slowly,” replies the woman he’s about to bed. In this bracing film Bonello brings that gradual sense of change as the “twilight of the 19th century” gives way to the “dawn of the 20th” into sharp focus. Through an accumulation of detail, as opposed to an overt presentation of back stories and dramatic incidents, we gain a sense of the mores of the women and men who work in this high-class brothel. The limits to the social relationships between the prostitutes and their patrons become clea. In its languid pacing and pictoral beauty it naturally recall’s Hou’s Flowers of Shanghai, but it reminded me of Demme’s Beloved adaptation, of all things, with its central trauma serving as a haunting reference point around which a forgotten way of life swirled. Still, this is probably a livelier film than either, with boldly imagined set pieces that are as close to pure cinema as anything I’ve seen at this year’s festival thus far. The final formal salvo struck me powerfully, with a cut to contemporary times inducing a real tear or two after Bonello’s ballsy imaginary ones. Not until the house was gone did I realize how deeply invested in it, which is probably something close to the point.
Monsters Club (Toshiaki Toyoda)
No need to waste time here, as I can’t imagine that this terrible film, inspired by the writings of the Unabomber, will be much considered. I will say that Toyoda has at least made this material its own, transferring it to a snowy forest in Japan and adding a fixation on pancake makeup that could have come from a Matthew Barney film, but it’s difficult to see how he’s thought critically about Ted Kaczynski’s ravings (which are quoted at length here) or advanced his point of view beyond an adolescent anti-establishment stance.
Alois Nebel (Tomas Lunak)
In the lousy tradition of Waltz With Bashir and Persepolis comes this crudely animated Czech trauma drama. The Holocaust, predictably, provides the central event from which the titular protagonist’s troubles sprout. When one considers his occupation (train station operator) unfavorable comparisons to Closely Watched Trains inevitably crop up. The cheap, inadequate black and white animation is going for a noir style, but this is a psychological drama with little action, making the choice seem more likely borne out of financial necessity. Ultimately, this goes for slow-burning psychological drama, but as with Waltz With Bashir, I find such a goal difficult to achieve when human faces have been replaced with crude flash animations.
Low Life (Nicolas Klotz & Elisabeth Perceval)
Klotz and Perceval’s Low Life presents an odd mix of socially aware, didactic drama and the navel gazing of young lovers. There are passages in Low Life that I adore, most of them luxuriating in self-absorption. One masterful shot, for example, set at a party without audible dialogue, sees two young lovers fight, make up, and break up again. It has a real pulse and typifies what works best in Low Life. The use of ambient music, the felicity of youth and the feel for a life spent at night mostly waiting around (or is it posing?) are all strong here. This mood doesn’t really last past the first hour, though. These young aspiring artists and scholars become increasingly tied up in the political problems of some local immigrants as the film moves on, shifting its focus radically. The film remains engaging, to be sure, but I was somewhat disappointed that the surface beauties I was reveling in had given way to something more explicitly important. Still well worth seeing, and very, very French, but something other than the movie I selfishly wanted it to be.
You’re Next (Adam Wingard)
You’re Next is nothing less and nothing more than an expertly made and audience-pleasing slasher film. Wingard clearly knows his target audience here, and as such has crafted a gory and suspenseful thriller with a satisfyingly large body count. I can’t imagine it won’t be seen as something of a classic in a few years. Though there are a few funny nods to the conventions of the genre (one character wants to flee for safety at the first ominous bump upstairs; the final girl is entirely capable of defending herself), this is too happy to perfectly execute a proven template than to reinvent it entirely. The comic elements here, which arise largely from the family dynamics of the family placed under siege by mysterious fox-masked killers, only add to the general sense of hysteria. The inevitable plot twists, when they come, scarcely stop this rapidly paced film in its tracks and the ending does not disappoint. Really, just an extremely proficient, extremely enjoyable genre film with a good sense of what it needs to do.