Outside Satan (Bruno Dumont)
Dumont exerts his mastery on an open-ended narrative here, gradually turning narrative withholding into spiritual mystery. Though familiar territory for the director, he’s as good as anyone as working in this post-Bressonian mode. The light application of miracles inserted into a few hours of mundane human drama makes for a powerful, almost metaphysical, viewing experience. This is an achingly physical film, filled with repetitive, labored trudges across the French marshes, yet its meanings all seem to lie just outside of our earthly realm. Call it the anti-Ordet, if you will, but this is a deeply uncanny and unsettling film. It’s as if Dumont is retelling a myth about good and evil with no clear idea where the lines between the two lie.
Habemus Papum (Nanni Moretti)
This starts charmingly as a gentle, middlebrow sendup of the Papal selection process, but it indisputably runs off the rails by its midpoint. Moretti, something of a footnote in his own film, plays a psychiatrist tasked with assessing the mental state of the reluctant new Pope (Michel Piccoli). Unfortunately, the Pope quickly flees the Vatican, and the film becomes as unmoored as its subject. Endless scenes involving a volleyball game between the Cardinals and the new Pope’s obsession with Chekov miss their satiric marks entirely, making what was a novel comedy turn into drudgery. Potent in a few moments (e.g. the Pope’s confession, “I’m an actor” hits with blunt force), but far too diffuse to sustain any comedy. I suppose Moretti is attempting to critique the Catholic Church’s disconnect from the real world, by focusing on a process that shows its leaders in a state of self-imposed exile, but any coherent theme is lost among the digressions.
Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols)
I wasn’t entirely sold on Nichols’ Shotgun Stories, but this second feature, which sees him switching inspiration from Greek tragedy to Biblical parable, suggests a second look is in order. Michael Shannon, giving a superb performance reminiscent of Robert Duvall’s best, plays a man convinced by his nightmares that a judgment day of sorts is coming. We’re made privy to his hallucinations, and Shannon’s work makes us aware of the tragic consequences that ensue when a man of action has to respond to a situation that he can’t fix with his hands. I am a sucker for male melodrama, and this worked me over. Scenes, such as the one in which we see the protagonist arrive at his counselor having already done his homework are heartbreakers. Indeed, the very premise, in which we are asked to watch a family disintegrate merely out of an obsessive desire to protect said family, is potent stuff.
Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine)
This is a by the numbers British kitchen sink melodrama with unusually ferocious performances from its three leads. Surely an “actors’ movie” first and foremost, it’s somewhat disappointing then that only Mullan seems to craft a full-blooded characterization. The overall trajectory toward hard-won redemption feels somewhat forced and Considine’s tendency toward brief scenes seems like a shame. I would love to see these actors froth at the mouth in Mike Leigh-length shots. There are some nice details in the set design (the protagonist’s apartment is decorated with broken Hummel figurines and the photograph clearly removed from a shattered frame), but this is essentially a two-note film, alternating between redemption and confrontation, working the audience over ruthlessly with animal abuse and rapes.
Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold)
While the qualifications here as an adaptation of the novel are certainly questionable (it’s missing the second half, for starters), I found plenty to groove on here aesthetically. Maybe credit must go to cinematographer Robbie Ryan, but this feels as if Philippe Grandrieux got a hold on the Bronte work. The first half of the film, especially, rubs our noses in nature and the abuse that Heathcliff faces. While the plot rears its head more explicitly in the second hour and the older actors are outclassed by the younger, on a visual level things remain rather intoxicating all the same.