The toxicity of emotional stagnation is all encompassing. It seeps from the ground, drifts like dust in the air, lingers on the wind’s breath, infecting us all no matter how hard we try to avoid it. “I’d hoped to never love again…” but is there another conceivable path? It starts from a place of instinctual bliss and slowly evolves toward an unthinkably silent, confused state of indecision and panic, or everyday life. Malick is once again measuring all things great and small through a cinema of vibrations and tones, and he’s created a massive/miniature tidal wave of momentum, filling the gaps where “narrative” should be with titanic images of lived experience devoid of wordplay. Heartache and joy, rage and confusion are no longer internal feelings, but external prayers sent outward for those around us to decipher and engage. Some people are more attuned to understanding than others.
This is a film of confessions and releases, towering industrial castles and deep horizons. A spinning glass orb, a spiraling camera that never stops swirling in harmony with the birds in the sky and the horses on the ground. Choosing to commit blissfully is the highest achievement, while choosing to commit out of convenience or necessity is a breach of all that is natural and right. We all dance around each other, pacing from one end of the frame to other, waiting to touch, hoping to graze against skin, yet afraid of realizing this sustained connection when it all happens gracefully enough. Eventually, after the fear and doubt and lust and desire and sadness subside, one final truth is revealed: we are ourselves at all times, but we are so much more than ourselves when we are in the right place, at the right time, with the right frame of mind, enjoying it all at once. That is transcendence, and sometimes, it does happen.
In this, my first full calendar year of being professional film critic, I’ve been spoiled by cinematic excellence every step of the way. 2011 has indeed been an embarrassment of riches for any film lover, from the vast collection of foreign and independent titles that struck a lasting cord to even the few Hollywood offerings that resonated. I’ve tried to capture the rush of emotions in the prose below. Some of these capsules are comprised of previous thoughts reprinted simply because I can’t imagine expressing myself better at this point, and others contain fresh analysis. Enjoy and thanks for reading!
1. Mysteries of Lisbon / Raul Ruiz
Rarely does a cinematic experience swallow you whole, but Mysteries of Lisbon, maybe the closest any film has come to being an epic poem, does just that. Chilean director Raúl Ruiz, who passed away this year at the tender age of 70, injects his simmering passion play about hidden identities and repressed memories with a graceful kinetic rhythm, a sense of cyclical movement that allows an ornate 19th-century Portugal to become an ocean of unrequited love and tragedy. It’s a densely layered filmic landscape where textured interiors and sublime natural light surround an array of diverse characters—orphans, priests, soldiers, pirates, aristocrats—torn between emotional duress and philosophical enlightenment. The film’s demanding temporal and spatial aesthetic, captured by haunting long takes and overlapping audio, creates a narrative Rubik’s cube that keeps turning and twisting until each character has been aligned with their necessary fate. Yet despite its four-hour running time and laundry list of shape-shifting players, Mysteries of Lisbon is a breezy cinematic dream, a film that effortlessly mixes grand ideas (national trauma, historiography) with small emotional truths, ultimately revealing how one can perfectly mirror the other. Continue reading
- The following is the ninth of ten planned online discussions between MATCH CUTS and THE FILMIST regarding the best films of the 2000’s. These transcriptions have been slightly edited due to length, but the published content remains exactly as written.
THE FILMIST: Paul Thomas Anderson is one of those filmmakers that people seem to regard purely by his influences, for some reason or another. I think that’s a little fallacious, myself – while his inspirations are obvious, this isn’t a fault. And, with that in mind, I believe that if that is the attitude people are going to take toward his films, then surely we can regard There Will Be Blood as the best Kubrick film by someone who – well, isn’t Kubrick.
MATCH CUTS: Interesting, since most critics reference Altman when discussing Anderson. But Kubrick definitely comes to mind with Blood, especially in the opening moments where it’s just visceral images and sounds, no dialogue. Directors like PT Anderson, even Wes Anderson, always will have their detractors because their films are uncompromising and personal. There Will Be Blood is basically a beast of a film, a shifty, expansive epic that complicates ideas about family, and how religion and commerce fit in with familial relations. Continue reading
- “The Best of the Decade Project” is an ongoing series of essays written by Match Cuts and The Filmist concerning the finest films of the last ten years.
Grace can be a difficult thing to pin down in the Cinema, as it is often a fleeting and subjective monicker for a vague feeling we can’t quite fully describe. But maybe more so than any other canon of work, the films of Terrence Malick exude a bracing gracefulness, pictures gliding along with a ferocious understanding of historiography, re-wrapping vantage points with poetic confessions and fragmented moments of silence. Malick moves time and space as if the camera were directly tapped into nature’s subconscious, feeding sounds and vibrations of environment though a striking lens of extremes, producing organic visions of love, war, and responsibility in the process. Continue reading