Continuing a look through the first few months of the year…
10: A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting on Existence
The final part of Roy Andersson’s loose trilogy on “being human”, this is (as ever) a morose hilarious lethargic Monty-Python-meets-Beckett trawl through the Swedish subconscious. No zombies in this one (unlike my favourite, “You, The Living“), but it does have an amazing extended one-take scene with a military horse being ridden into a modern bar by Charles XII, the 18th century king of Sweden.
It also contains two scenes of signicant horror, pushing that angle beyond either of the previous instalments. One of those is a bizarre, hallucinatory scene of mechanised ritual genocide, like Hironymous Bosch meets Rube Goldberg. There’s nothing else quite like these films in cinema. B+
9. Wild Tales
Six comic tales from Argentina featuring people consumed by revenge… sweet, murderous revenge. One and three are by far the best installments. I can’t go into the plots because they are short shaggy dog takes defined by their twists and reversals. Like a slick, beautifully filmed anthology of Tales of the Unexpected. B+
8. A Most Dangerous Year
New York, 1981. Early 80s New York is my favourite time and place in cinema, and against that background we have some sharp outfits, desperate gambles, a fantastic car chase, a little gunplay and Jessica Chastain being a Stone. Cold. Boss.
Best moment: Chastain channels her gangster father as she drops to a whisper DA David Oyelowo and gently informs him that “this was… very disrespectful.” B+
7. While We’re Young
A documentary maker (Ben Stiller) and his wife (Naomi Watts) find their lives reinvigorated when they start hanging out with a younger filmmaker (Adam Driver) and his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried).
I loved Noah Baumbach’s excellently observed The Squid and the Whale, and enjoyed his character study Francis Ha too (until his efforts to give the plot some shape faltered in the final stretch). Like Francis Ha, While We’re Young spends a lot of time satirising trendy poseurs, but with some key differences.
First, where Greta Gerwig’s Francis was charmingly naïve, here we have a creeping sense that Adam Driver is cunning, duplicitous, and just maybe outright evil. Could it be his apparently playful creative positivity is just a tool to disarm and draw power to himself?
Second, Baumbach expands his satirical scope to take down the middle aged characters, marking them as just as guilty of their own brand of fakery. The issue of whether or not to have children is constantly spun by couples who seem to be marketing their own life choices to each other as a mechanism for establishing personal prestige.
The people who get it most in the neck are not even present: the guys from Catfish are the clear inspiration for a lot of the plot, theme and characterisation. While Baumbach is a generous enough filmmaker to try and be even handed they nonetheless do not come out of it well.
As the plot develops, it becomes clear Baumbach’s key interest is in the idea of authenticity. The younger cast members never had it, but venerate it and passive-aggressively claim ownership of it. The middle generation let it slip from their fingers due to an inability to face the fact they aren’t young any more. And the older generation retain it by just not caring about it.
There are some missteps (a too-broad Judd Apatow-style drug party, and some clunkingly on-the-nose dialogue in the climactic scene) that stop this being quite as good as The Squid and the Whale. Nonetheless this is still a rich, fascinating, funny and heartfelt movie and probably Baumbach’s second best. Plus you get to see Naomi Watts in a hip hop dance class. B+