What are fairy tales if not elaborate distractions from monotony, epic lies we tell ourselves to pass the time and re-shape human nature’s darker complexities into something digestible? Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s haunting Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a police procedural about the procedures of miscommunication, understands both the resonance and fragility of this idea. Throughout the film’s lengthy running time, Ceylan contemplates the sudden collision of fantasy and reality within a world mired in delays. He creates a meandering breadcrumb trail of memories, gossip, distractions, and disagreements, all of which feed like a river into a subjective vision of a story meant to process what cannot be processed.
If Christian Petzold’s 2008 film Jerichow boldly transplanted the fulsome melodrama of Douglas Sirk and the menace of classic film noir into a beguiling and restrained art house body, the German director’s latest, Barbara, is a Cold War character study that submerges those genre considerations even deeper into the fabric of its specific milieu.
Oliver Stone’s Savages has guts. In this sun-drenched acid wash of a thriller, a trio of naïve young lovers butt heads with a brutal Mexican drug cartel, and the entanglement proves violently disruptive, waking them up from their idyllic Southern California fantasy. This awakening of sorts is envisioned by Stone though a jolting mesh of vibrant colors, contrasting film stocks, and off-kilter compositions. Throughout, the hyper-realized style helps to articulate the brutal cost of living inside a self-contained bubble.
Like its intrepid firefighter subjects, Tom Putnam and Brenna Sanchez’s Burn initially seems juiced up on too much adrenaline. Early in this kinetic documentary intimately following a tumultuous year in the life of Engine Co. 50, Detroit’s most aggressive and overworked fire brigade, every shot resonates with a breakneck immediacy and danger. But the endless scenes of burning buildings and macho posturing merely provide an action-driven context for the filmmakers to deal with more personal topics like loneliness and resiliency. That these themes apply to multiple generations of men working together makes Burn an even more intricate work of nonfiction. Firefighters may be “social creatures by nature,” as one interviewee puts it, but the film manages to peel away that façade and reveal the collective frustrations of a profession fighting for its life one individual at a time.
Self-imposed borders, whether physical or ideological, often define one’s nationality, tradition, and gender. American director Joshua Marston is fascinated by the way these facets of identity overlap, constructing films about young characters forced to challenge predetermined limits of control in their respective cultures and communities. That his gaze focuses so intensely on countries outside of his own—Colombia in 2004’s Maria Full of Grace and Albania in 2011’sThe Forgiveness of Blood—makes his thematic concerns even more evocative. Marston’s background in journalism and political science shapes his keen directorial eye, especially in the level of detail he brings to examining the familial hierarchies and cultural stigmas at odds in The Forgiveness of Blood. For him, it’s not just about the authenticity of place, but also the authenticity of conflicting experiences.
Hello readers, I know, I know. This website hasn’t been updated regularly in months. But in my defense, I have been writing my ass off. So I’m going to try and catch up the best I can by doing one post a day from here on out. Up first, my roundup/essay from AFI FEST 2012 for Little White Lies. Hope you enjoy, and thanks for sticking around.