Films I loved in April 2015

Sebastião Salgado
Sebastião Salgado in The Salt of the Earth

Wim Wenders’s documentary about photojournalist Sebastião Salgado, co-directed with Salgado’s son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, has already become one of my all-time favourite documentaries. The Salt of the Earth demonstrates yet again how good Wenders is at using cinema to capture the spirit of another art form. The film puts Salgado’s photographs into both a historical and personal context, creating an intimate dialogue between Salgado and the audience in sequences where the reflection of the photographer’s face appears over works being discussed. Most powerful is when the content of the photographs overwhelms all other considerations and the film simply consists of the images and Salgado’s commentary, where he still today attempts to make sense of the inhumanity he witnessed and documented in his belief that, ‘everybody should see these images’. This is a profoundly moving film about a humble, kind and remarkable man who turned his passion for photography into a powerful humanitarian tool to alert the world about situations where humanity was at its worst, but to also celebrate humanity at its most resilient and beautiful.

Maika Monroe as Jay Height in It Follows
Maika Monroe as Jay Height in It Follows

I loved the dreamy and dread-filled atmosphere of teen-horror film It Follows. It’s an extremely successful pastiche of classic horrors such as RinguHalloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street that also seems to have been influenced by non-horror films Blue Velvet and The Virgin Suicides as well as Charles Burns’s graphic novel Black Hole and the Slender Man internet meme. Set during an undefinable time period in American suburbia, it draws upon numerous primal anxieties surrounding sexuality, preferring to evoke and reference the treatment of gender in horror rather than explicitly commit to any clear statement of its own. Most effective is its cinematography where slow zooms, tracking shots and circular pans are designed to constantly suggest something in the shot that the audience and characters are yet to notice. This is the uncanny made beautiful and I was mesmerised.

Anne Dorval as Diane 'Die' Després in Mommy
Anne Dorval as Diane ‘Die’ Després in Mommy

The key to what made Xavier Dolan’s new film Mommy work for me was the symbolic family unit that forms between the titular mother, her troubled son and their neighbour – a woman who has lost of voice after years of inattention. The bond between the trio challenges notions of gender roles and the idea of fixed sexuality, which suits the film’s hyper-real and kitsch visual aesthetic in the way that evokes the traditions of melodrama and subversive cinema that Dolan draws from, from Douglas Sirk to Rainer Werner Fassbinder to Todd Haynes among others. The radical decision to use a 1:1 aspect ratio successfully gives the film a cramped and claustrophobic feel, allowing for moments of much needed respite where the aspect ration changes to express a sense of joy and freedom.

Jason Schwartzman as Philip Lewis Friedman in Listen Up Philip
Jason Schwartzman as Philip Lewis Friedman in Listen Up Philip

In interviews filmmaker Alex Ross Perry has cited novelists such as Thomas Pynchon and Philip Roth as major influences on his films, so it’s curious to note that the protagonist of Listen Up Philip is a brilliant young novelist who hates doing publicity and is an unpleasant, short tempered, arrogant, resentful and boastful bastard. I think the reason I found a film about such an unlikable person to be so enjoyable is because it functions as a darkly comedic exposé of cry-baby self-entitled men who believe their own hype and blame everybody but themselves for their troubles, imagined or otherwise. These are guys who will inevitably descending into a self-important misery spiral they have created for themselves, and witnessing this happening is strangely captivating.

Thomas Caldwell, 2015