The aspect of dystopian movies is the matter of relation in terms of how close to the truth they can stay. The more disturbing ones take notes from history and place them within new context and modern settings. With “New Order” set in Mexico or in a version of Mexico City, the film starts showing the extreme separation from the rich and “the help”. Establishing during a wedding between Marianne & Cristian, the film moves more like a “Short Cuts” stream of consciousness through different rooms while showing the different moving perspectives of different classes. Specific aspects of need pour right on the doorstep during this celebration and sets up the conflict (however internal). But things aren’t going right. There is a sense of disturbance with the essence of green paint. Encroachment slowly comes in with invading forces but what becomes interesting is the flip that happens. Even while one area is subjugated, another area takes advantage and that is where the real damage lies. Production values are realistic as different landmarks almost look like news footage melded with a cinema verite quality which shifts from the earlier elegant camerawork (a tone shift obviously done with purpose). The reality is that those who tell the eventual story of history dictate how it is told. The use of phone camera is interesting although not used in the way one would think. Without giving too much away, the machinations move to the very end and are slicing. No one is safe. Human cruelty is brutal especially in desperate circumstances. Some of the scenes inside a certain garrison are harrowing because political correctness does nothing in those situations. It is about surviving when their seems there is no hope and the power struggle is apparent. There is no line between man and woman and yet the ignorance of the characters (even as a caricature of sorts seems extremely harsh). The film is very effective in displaying that movement while also showing that people one thinks are friends or confidants can easily manipulate aspects to their own advantage to the immense tragedy of others. Some of the images are downright horrible and yet one knows they happen all over the world. In a country that faces its own governmental problems currently in what is supposed to be one of the most free countries in the world, it brings into sharp focus the small crevice between light and darkness. The film also shows people exist with good souls but it sometimes it doesn’t reach mass effectiveness and rather is swept under the rug. “New Order” is a vicious take on a story told once too often that bears repeating as it continues to happen but arts is always a reflection of the life seen.
The context of “Dave Not Coming Back” is almost mythic in its progress. A feature film in narrative style would have harmed its poignancy but the irony of a documentary film that was initially being made to document a rescue of sorts in a deep water cave located in the desert plains of South Africa is mind boggling in its own structure of Bushman’s Hole. This freshwater sinkhole descends to close to 1000 feet underwater. Many have dived it. one such diver, not a full professional, (the title character of Dave) set the world record by going to the bottom where he found the body of a former diver who was lost a decade earlier. The initial documentary footage done in 2005 was created to capture that effort and its success. What it turned into was something much darker and human. The only way to recover the body was to have a string of divers almost relay the body up since otherwise they couldn’t rise to the surface that quick or risk bad decompression sickness. From nearly 1000 feet it takes near 12 hours stopping at different depths to decompress. Without giving too much away, something went wrong but watching the layers being pulled away including footage actually taken by the man who went down to the very bottom is both harrowing and strangely prescient and moving but also disturbing. These kinds of stories are the ones that sometimes people who lived them don’t want to tell because of guilt but with others, it is about setting the record straight. Don, who was almost hand-in-hand with Dave (who didn’t come back – hence the title), recreates in a way but also shows his path without overwhelming the story (which on its own is harrowing as well — yet he survived). Balancing the new info, underwater recreations (to a point) [done by Don] and footage going down into a mine shaft plus some beautiful drone bridges of the actual sinkhole from above, it is a story that perhaps most of us in the US never heard about but it is universal. It also needed time to simmer and manifest if you will. This event was very unique, tragic but also deeply human and ambitious but also fraught wit themes of regret, ego and legacy. Ultimately it creates a texture vision into the mindset of explorers, the motivations that drive them and the ones that are left behind. Many of the worlds and footage are prescient yet paint a distinct picture of a moment in time, perhaps secular from the world but undeniably global in its universality.
The intention of period piece is to understand the impact on its characters and their reaction to stimuli. In this way, “I’m Your Woman” which stars Rachel Brosnahan of “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” fame, is an interesting move. It is a film from a first time female director and there is a sense of intention but one where the lead character basks almost in her ignorance until she is confronted not to. Like Karen in “Goodfellas” but much less worldly, Jeane’s life seem stilted but comfortable. Her husband loves her yet she knows that he is a criminal. We are never given a full view of what he is up to but by placing Jean at the center and adding a baby to the mix, it becomes an interesting mix of genres. The only issue is that at times it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Like “the Kitchen”, there are stylistic flourishes at different points in the film that are borderline brilliant but aren’t thoroughly consistent. Brosnahan works herself different in the role on purpose to show the difference in a character from “Maisel”. Jean doesn’t talk fast. She pointedly asks question but rarely and with trepidation. She is not brazen and she is not methodical but her instincts get better. She is not a person used to taking care of herself. She ends up embroiled with another person who worked with her husband who protects her and yet more goes on below the surface. His wife shows up which adds another layer. But it is when Jean needs to peel back the blinders that the film starts to work. One specific scene through a hallway back and forth from a specific POV gives the harrowing feeling and being in the 70s you can guess the texture of the club. That said, even though Amazon is known for having the money to license music, the filmmaker decided to use two very specific Aretha Franklin songs and there is one soul instrumental where one can’t tell if it was written today or then. What it does do is completely set the pace at one point which is where the movie gets part of its flow. Director Julie Hart also has enough confidence to let the camera sit on her actors, especially Brosnahan. Though the performance is not absolutely out of the park, it is effective and nuanced though at times you can see the cracks and the effort being made. The blonde hair and 70s era outfits completely the idea of transformation in Brosnahan. This is not “Fargo” but it does reflect the mid-range pictures that used to be commonplace in Hollywood. And the streamers know that can be its bread and butter. Pittsburgh too takes a great role in the film creating that 70s angle and vibe without saying “Here I am!” That said as “I’m Your Woman” moves towards its conclusion, it does take risks creating a brutal but riveting sequence at the end that although budgetarily constrained does relate a grittiness. The title itself is an odd one as it means different things but doesn’t truly explain the intent of the film. “I’m your Woman” though seems to know what it is and doesn’t shy away from its identity.
A movie that constantly approaches and asks “who am I?” or “who was I?” revels in its sense of space. “Apples”, a Polish film about a man separated from his mind supposedly is something a bit alien maybe to Westerners. Many people in a local urban area seems to be suffering from amnesia. They are taken in by local government via hospitals. Some of their families find them. Others are left on their own. The lead character is a simple man who wanders out one day and ends up at the end of a bus route and unable to remember his name. He never quite speaks and yet he does. He follows the path the doctors set out for him and follows it usually fairly close like a rat stuck in a maze. This might sound dark but it is not. It is fable of sorts and yet an example of brainwashing amid an idea of utopia. The state is trying to fix its people but the process is very interesting. He is given a series of tapes with instructions for social interactions. Most of them are simple but get more complicated and almost moral ambiguous as time goes. There is also an essence of classic cinema especially when the character of Anna who has a similar condition crosses paths with him. One of the constructs of the movie is based on the fact that Polaroids need to be taken of their daily life. Much of the humor and lyricism of the film lies in these sequences whether it be riding a bike too small or going to a strip cub. The performance of Anis is played so close to the vest that the viewer begins to debate if the lead character is not faking and taking advantage of the system versus actually operating in this way. One sequence in a dance club (not an electronic one) but a more laid back almost jazz/pop open air venue has Anis dancing and the perspective between and behind him and Anna is palpable but not defined. “Apples” refers to the fact of that Anis as a character loves apples. it is the one constant that relates back to his old life. And it is the first thing the doctors give him at the hospital. The double meaning is brought into line with a produce seller eventually say that it is supposed to help the memory. This makes Anis put them back as if he doesn’t want to confront the past. It is done and humorous way and the film never feels stilted. This character and a few others exist in this in-between word, much like “Amelie” but with less vibrancy and the rhythm and texture of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Still “Apples” is a beautiful little film that is just what it is but bordering on being more.
Werner Herzog always has an interesting way of looking at things where it is never one thing but perhaps another. After his stunt on “The Mandalorian”, perhaps his stint into alien worlds provided a slightly different perspective. While “Fireball: Visitors From Other Worlds” in many ways is straightforward, its unconventional narrator gives the ideas its push. Apple backed this film which is equal parts at times indulgence versus metaphysical voyage with an idea of how existential it really could be. Herzog examines the idea of organisms and the intermingling of history and art. It is not done in an obtuse way but rather in a roundabout way of examining the human spirit. Herzog sees people in a different way. It is hard to say if he is operating at times as we only see him jump in once (yet his voice narrates the entire process and was written by him so the voice is inherently of that bent). The perspective goes away from norms. His camera lingers on the subjects not asking for quotes most of the time but taking in their faces. That says so much more than any of the talking heads that interact with Clive Oppenheimer (who co-directed). Oppenheimer is himself a documentary filmmaker and volcanologist who worked with Herzog on the different “Volcanos” (so they obviously get along). Oppenheimer has less presence than perhaps some of his interview subjects whom Herzog perhaps stays on a bit too long. It is not about what they are saying per se though the details are there. It is about how they are acting when it is being said. There are textures of obsessive compulsive elements in many of the subjects or just a jitteriness like a professor in India who sits in the belly of a crater. Some just can’t stop moving either out of nature of excitement. One of the more interesting is a Jesuit Brother that works for The Vatican and is also a planetary scientist. His discussion of the paradox of science and God is not contradictory per se and yet explains the right balance. Herzog seems to see these elements and adds to the slight undercurrent of beautiful madness. The ending sequence takes this to a visual extreme but examines and reamplifies the nature of the meteors and the history they both create and tell.