NYFF Capsule Reviews #2

Norte, the End of History (Lav Diaz)

I am still split about Lav Diaz’s Norte, the End of History. It is definitely a solid film, worth seeing, but is it great? The film struck me as extremely well made, searing, and wonderfully acted (Angeli Bayani is simply heartbreaking, trying to keep her life together). And it is a privilege to see life unfolding in front of you while at the same time, in parallel, a metaphorical unyielding and degeneration of the ‘intellect’ of a society. But you could replace it with quite a few other South Asian countries with the same issues and problems and which deserve the same indictment. Plus, perhaps the main problem was the half-hearted attempt to incorporate Crime and Punishment in the 4 hours + epic. And some of the characters’ motivations were not understandable or exactly clear (e.g. the angelic Joaquin). I really appreciated that poverty-stricken people from the lower strata of society are shown as uneducated but not ignorant or stupid. Post-screening, Diaz (just like his observational, extended shots) was taciturn and didn’t seem to like to talk while others from the production were doing all the talking!

Bastards (Claire Denis)

bastardsClaire Denis’ Bastards  is gorgeously shot and the camerawork and music are pure poetry (the slanting top-down close-ups and multiple sequences, like the car driving scenes and the winding roads, the shoes in the decrepit shoe factory, night in Parisian streets, etc.). Basically just what Denis does best, but this time the narrative has a bit too much going on, which is never dealt with properly or to greater, more meaningful effect. I’ve found that usually her work (from what I have seen) is not that heavy on plot (or melodramatic for that matter), but in this case the parameters and approach are rather different and it all ends up almost too much on the nose.

Abuse of Weakness (Catherine Breillat)

abuseofweaknessAbuse of Weakness is one of Catherine Breillat’s most accessible movies (I’ve seen Fat Girl, Romance X, Bluebeard, Last Mistress and Anatomy of Hell). It’s a tight, focused and genuine retelling (though a partially fictionalized version) of her stroke, her recovery and her subsequent conning (at multiple levels: emotional, mental and financial) by a con artist. Wrenching and heartbreaking in a non-sentimental way, she shows that no matter what class, education, status you are, human beings in their moment of weakness are the same in their need and desire to be loved, affirmed and wanted. Perhaps more importantly, she tells the bitter truth about the willful permission (which is not mere denial, mind you, in fact something more stark) that they allow for their judgement to be clouded by their predicaments. It is also distinct from her previous work in that the female character is actually powerless in this one, even by the end. It was sobering and harrowing to see, when Breillat, who has not recovered fully yet, and Isabelle Huppert came out after the movie for the Q&A. A courageous movie, a brave act of expression by Breillat, regardless of the artistic value of the film itself, especially as she has laid bare her own weakness, her vulnerability, her missteps in such an intimate and personal experience of exploitation at the low point in her life, out on display for the whole world. The last scene, 10 minutes or so of the movie, is a great and fascinating example of a sequence which consolidates the core, the whole point of the film, and presents it so precisely, ably and beautifully. Huppert is unsurprisingly in top form here.