Films I loved in June 2017

5 July 2017
Graduation

Adrian Titieni as Romeo Aldea in Graduation

Graduation is about the hypocrisy of well-meaning people doing the wrong thing. In the case of Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni), a Romanian doctor living in a small town, he resorts to corruption to help his daughter pursue a better quality of life. Like many critics, I was astonished by filmmaker Cristian Mungiu’s tense and confronting 2007 film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, but I think Graduation is even better. Despite the film’s grim beginning, it is not an ordeal and it even offers a glimmer of hope that the younger generation may break the cycle of cynicism, opportunism and self-interest that the older generation have taught them. Not unlike the films of The Salesman filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, there are no overly bad people in Graduation, just a range of characters with different breaking points and limitations.

The Villainess

Kim Ok-bin as Sook-hee in The Villainess

‘Kinetic’ and ‘visceral’ are two words I sometimes worry I over use, but I can’t think of anything better to describe the delirious and thrilling action sequences in The Villainess. The gleefully convoluted tale of revenge, a secret assassins’ agency and double-crossings contain many familiar themes and plot points from films such as La Femme Nikita and Kill Bill, but it is the superb ultra-violent action choreography and cinematography that makes The Villainess stand out. While the film’s gritty yet slick aesthetic has seen it compared to things like The Raid and some of the more intense moments in Park Chan-wook’s films, I also thought of Gaspar Noé and the way he manages to float the camera through scenes in a dreamlike and often seemingly impossible way.

Annette Bening as Dorothea Fields and Lucas Jade Zumann as Jamie Fields in 20th Century Women

I’m not sure when exactly, but at some point while watching 20th Century Women I became aware of just how much I was loving being in the company of the five main characters. Inspired by writer/director Mike Mills’s own childhood, 15-year-old Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is at the centre of the narrative, but the film really belongs to his mother Dorothea (Annette Bening), best friend Julie (Elle Fanning), and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), who lives in the same boarding house, as well as William (Billy Crudup). They are a fascinating, likeable and vulnerable ensemble of characters trying to make sense of the complexities of family, love, mortality and aging against the backdrop of the sexual revolution, the emergence of punk and the impending presidency of Ronald Reagan. While tinged with melancholy, this is ultimately a warm and embracing film about how experiences and relationships shape us.

Okja

An Seo Hyun as Mija in Okja

Bong Joon-ho has always excelled in his ability to mash-up genres and perform radical tonal shifts within a single film, and Okja is no different. It starts like a kids film (but with more swearing) focusing on Mija, a young girl wanting to be reunited with her beloved super pig. Okja then shifts gear into camp and comedic action when Mija falls in with a group of animal rights activists, and then finally ends up as a confronting and moving critique of industrialised meat production. Emerging child actor An Seo Hyun gives a grounded performance as Mija, while the manic performances from the supporting cast – which includes Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano – successfully conveys the madness of the world she encounters when she gets caught up in the machinery of capitalism and media hype.

Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman fulfils the potential shown by Man of Steel in 2013 when the DC Extended Universe kicked-off with Superman’s origin story. Both films concern godlike superhero characters with childlike emotional intelligence who have to learn to make sense of the world, especially when it comes to difficult moral choices. Wonder Woman is a far less angst-ridden affair, and it charts Diana Prince’s journey from the secret island of Themyscira where she grew up, to the Western Front in Belgium during World War I, where she is convinced she will meet and defeat Ares the god of war. As well as delivering several exhilarating and beautifully choreography action sequences, what gives Wonder Woman its edge is the way is grapples with issues of morality concerning what it means to act for the greater good, and the complicated nature of war where defeating the big super villain won’t sudden bring war to an end overnight.

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Kedi

I’m not sure if you have to be a cat-lover to enjoy the Turkish documentary Kedi, as I feel it does explore broader ideas about the relationship between humans and domesticated animals. On the other hand, as somebody who grew up and continues to live with cats, I’m not the slightest bit objective. I adored this charming, beautiful and surprising soulful film about the thousands of street cats living in Istanbul and the city’s human residents that some of the cats deem worthy of their affection. Kedi showcases a beautiful city from a cat’s perspective, examines the symbiotic bond between people and cats, and muses on deeper questions regarding life, god and love, and how cats fit into all that. Brilliant.

David Lynch

David Lynch in David Lynch: The Art Life

I’ve had the good fortune to attend two exhibitions of David Lynch’s artwork – The Air is on Fire in Paris, France in 2007 and more recently David Lynch: Between Two Worlds in Brisbane, Australia in 2015 – and both demonstrated how Lynch’s art runs parallel to his work as a filmmaker, exploring and expanding on many of the themes in his films. The documentary David Lynch: The Art Life is an excellent portrait of Lynch the artist, exploring how his childhood experiences and early influences helped shape his artistic obsessions. I’ve never heard the notoriously secretive director talk so candidly about himself and his work, and the film contains a lot of footage that I (a massive Lynch fan) had never seen before.

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks

And speaking of Lynch, the new series of Twin Peaks continues to soar above and beyond my expectations.

Thomas Caldwell, 2017