There are some filmmakers who make movies about the way people should be. Then there are filmmakers like Romanian writer/director/producer Cristian Mungiu who makes movies about the way people actually are.
Graduation (Bacalaureat) unwinds like an onion in the sense that layer after layer of complications are revealed with each successive act. Moral choices have to be made and people just talk about same. Mungiu previously directed the acclaimed film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days in 2007.
As Graduation opens, a rock is thrown through a living room window. Dr. Aldea (Adrian Titeni) has a daughter about to graduate high school. Aldea also has a mistress and a wife as well as business associates who are under investigation by the police.
Aldea’s daughter is attacked one day after high school. We learn that the assailant was going to rape her but couldn’t get it up, so to speak, so the incident is treated as an assault. The girl sprains her wrist during the confrontation and now wears a cast. An exceptionally bright student, the family wants her to matriculate with the requisite grades to get a scholarship to attend Cambridge. Because of her arm, the school authorities don’t want her to take the finals because she could hide answers in her cast. This all happens in the first reel.
Mungiu lets the dialogue establish character development while never getting extravagant with camera moves or action. All throughout the film there are phones ringing in the background – phones that never get answered. Aldea’s mistress has a preteen son who wears a mask the way children do. In one scene the kid is wandering behind the adults wearing his mask. It’s a surreal moment in a key scene weighed down by the reality of the situation.
Not only must Aldea choose between his wife and his mistress, he must appease the officials investigating his friends and he has to convince his daughter to possibly cheat on the test to insure her future wellbeing.
Meanwhile the phones keep ringing and Mungui ratchets up the tension through words and character motivation.
Graduation opens exclusively this weekend at the River Oaks Theatre.
Guy Richie has formulated this elliptical method of taking two or three different scenes and intercutting between them with overlapping dialogue and breaking the space-time continuum to make it flow like one complete passage.
This style of filmmaking is nothing new and in fact Gus Van Sant used the same technique in Elephant and Gerry and a few other films, and was himself influenced by Hungarian director Béla Tarr. Only Tarr and Van Sant were making art films and Richie directs mainstream cinema.
One thing remains obvious, Richie’s newest film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword takes an oft-repeated story and infuses it with sorcery, magic and action galore. Truth is, nobody really knows if King Arthur ever really existed, it’s legend rather than historical fact. Giant elephants and snakes, and swords in stone are worthy narrative components under Richie’s steady direction. Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) might not ever become a Brad Pitt leading man but he puts forth a mighty convincing argument that he should be with his physical portrayal of Arthur. Astrid Bergés-Frisbey, Jude Law, Eric Bana, Djimon Hounsou and Aidan Gillen co-star.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword opens wide this weekend.
Sarah Adina Smith wowed film festival audiences with her 2014 metaphysical journey of three women and a mysterious lake in The Midnight Swim. Smith is back in full force with the equally reality bending Buster’s Mal Heart.
Rami Malek plays Buster with a vengeance. Malek will be most familiar to audiences from his lead role in the Amazon series Mr. Robot. Buster once had a family although the nuclear unit happiness was dampened by having to live with in-laws and working a nowhere job as a midnight shift clerk at a hotel.
Tragic events have led to Buster now living homeless in the forest and breaking into people vacation homes for his sustenance. Local talk radio stations occasionally get Buster’s weird rants about the coming of the “inversion.” I was halfway into the film until I realized that it was set on the eve of Y2K. Seems that Buster has been influenced by a weird character (DJ Qualls) that showed up at the hotel one night wanting a room, with cash but no credit card or I.D.
The police who’re chasing Buster are complex characters in their own right, often spouting funny observations about Buster’s penchant for leaving feces as his calling card.
Don’t expect a traditional ending but do expect to be entertained by Buster’s Mal Heart.
A high school girl is kidnapped by a young couple. At first they give her a lift, but end up talking her into coming to their house to party. They turn her into their personal sex slave with plans to eventually kill her.
The events of Hounds of Love are not as graphic as the subject implies, yet the tension is wound so tight that it might burst at any minute. The victim eventually starts playing the husband against the wife in an attempt to gain her freedom. The cool thing about Hounds of Love is that the action is set in Australia and we don’t know the actors. That allows the audience to really sink into the story without preconceived notions. The direction by Ben Young in his feature film debut keeps you on the edge of your seat until the unseemly conclusion.
Both Hounds of Love and Buster’s Mal Heart open exclusively this weekend at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Road.