There are few filmic trilogies that end with a bang. Often, the final instalment in a trilogy fizzles out disappointingly like the last sparkler on New Year’s Eve. There are a handful of existential quandaries that have perplexed me recently. Why doesn’t the word umlaut have an umlaut? Why don’t I have Catholic guilt about my lack of Catholic guilt? And, most significantly, why can’t the third film in a trilogy sustain the same energy and artistry as the previous two films? In trilogies such as Star Wars, The Godfather, The Dark Knight, Evil Dead and even the excellent Apu and Three Colours, the third film is my least favourite. Perhaps this is why I embraced Before Midnight so whole-heartedly; it ends the superb Before trilogy in, for want of a better word, a perfect way. Before, like Toy Story, is one of the few trilogies that get consistently better with each film.
Cristian Mungiu is possibly the most distinctive and intriguing young auteur working today. The Romanian writer and director was behind 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, my favourite film of the 21st Century so far. Mungiu proves with his latest film Beyond the Hills that his vision is singular and uncompromising. His acumen is unique, consistently examining the specificities and ambiguities of female friendships within overarching socio-religious paradigms in most of his films. He does so with a perspicacious style involving naturalistic dialogue, hand-held back-to-the-camera shots and lengthy takes that make Bela Tarr look like Paul Greengrass.
Upstream Color is a mesmeric, stimulating cinematic experience. It is aesthetically beguiling and formally challenging, and comes as a welcome return to the world of independent cinema for director, writer, cinematographer, editor, composer and actor Shane Carruth. The one-man-band that is Shane Carruth, controlling his films like an auteurist Tommy Wiseau, made his debut film Primer on a smaller budget than a Pavement music video. Primer was made in 2004, and Carruth did not make another film for nine years.
On the surface, Amour seems to be Michael Haneke’s attempt at humanism and delicacy. While it is certainly humanistic and delicate, Amour is just as dark, misanthropic and unflinching as all of Haneke’s films. Haneke is one of cinema’s greatest auteurs, and despite Amour’s superficial pathos and anthropocentricity, Haneke’s latest film fits very comfortably in his oeuvre. His characters are all endemically flawed, and they relate to each other in surreptitiously violent ways. Every one of Haneke’s films is driven by the violence and deception that underpins human relationships, and how the media fuels this.
No was not the fifth best film I saw in 2013. However, it was definitely one of the most enjoyable movie-watching experiences of the year. For a film about the horrors of the Pinochet dictatorship, No is decidedly light-hearted, comedically driven and slyly self-reflexive, whilst avoiding a parochial and juvenile account of life in 1980s Chile. No completes Pablo Larrain’s unintended trilogy about the Pinochet era; 2008’s Tony Manero focused on a middle-aged Chilean man’s obsession with the film Saturday Night Fever, while 2010’s Post Mortem is about a pathologist’s assistant dealing with the sum of dead bodies amassing during the 1973 military coup in Chile. Continuing this trend, No concentrates on the lives of ordinary individuals in this era, and the paths they take to rebel against Pinochet.
If you find The Loneliest Planet as engaging as an audiobook of War and Peace read by Bernie Fraser, then I completely understand. If you thought Tabu was a slow-burn, then you haven’t seen The Loneliest Planet. I often refrain from saying that ‘nothing happens’ in certain films, because there is always ‘something’ going on in every movie, even if the plot is scant. I think there is a lot ‘going on’ underneath the surface of The Loneliest Planet, but very little resolves in the film’s plot. This is an acerbic, elusive film; a film that is as deliciously enigmatic as it is frequently impenetrable.
Not too many people walked out of my screening of Tabu. A few people did, but compared to my screening of Joss Whedon’s tepid Much Ado about Nothing, where everyone except me and my party exited the cinema, not too many walked out of Tabu. That surprised me, because it is exactly the sort of film that you’d expect people to give up on. Tabu is a slow, plot-less meander through the past and the present, wrapped in impenetrable black-and-white cinematography, inside an oblique two-act structure.