Gods and mortals
I reviewed The Fifth Estate over at Critic’s Notebook, a film which did nothing to persuade me that the biopic form is not currently cold on the slab.
Celebrity culture gives every public figure a rolling prime-time biopic anyway, so it might be better to tackle someone that prime-time doesn’t care about. Hannah Arendt, for example, features the redoubtable Barbara Sukowa pondering the imponderable from behind a cloud of cigarette smoke, and doing so with more integrity towards history than Rush or Diana managed. But limited resources mean that the historic storm surrounding her is tea-cup size, and adversaries assault her with thin clichés. One of her assailants is Harvey Friedman, who played Goebbels in Valkyrie; her assistant is Julia Jentsch, who played Sophie Scholl. German actors must find themselves circling these characters like planes above an airport. Adolf Eichmann plays himself, every sight of him a reminder that the topic at hand still defeats the very notion of dramatization much as a pin defeats a balloon.
Short Term 12 is honourable, terrifically acted, and so conservative that it’s the least indie indie-film of the year. All crises and dramas involving its troubled kids are dealt with in-house by trained personnel, barring a mildly obstructionist boss who comes round at the end. Damaged survivors prove able to help damaged sufferers; their wounds may re-open in the process, but their friends are steadfast. Foster parents are lovely. The system works!
Gloria is a proper showcase for Paulina Garcia, her expression sinking ever lower under each new low blow dealt in her direction by everyday life in Santiago until it can go no further and she starts turning up in scenes flat on her back. Pablo Larrain’s name turns up in the credits, allowing a reading in which modern Chile is built on sand, the ties between the generations having frayed to nothing but vague threads of guilt and disappointment. Mostly it just reminds that your kids can really screw you up. Some have detected empowerment, although anyone not a thousand miles from the age in question will recognise resignation when they see it.
Thor: The Dark World. In which Natalie Portman wears nifty red boots but has to read dialogue direct from the Æsir’s waste paper basket. Terrible.
Gravity isn’t from anyone’s waste bin, and a long way from terrible. It feels like a film from the past on its way to the future, deliberately aiming for the exact spot where an orbital B-movie might pivot over into an abstract sensory experiment. This is either the best idea ever or a waste of time, and either way requires an analytical breakdown of light and optics and perception on a scale that counts as radical in a commercial entertainment. By rights Gravity should have aggravated the annoying chill of calculation I usually get from Alfonso Cuarón to unbearable levels, but this time the presiding spirit seems more like Melville (Herman). It’s pity and terror on the New Frontier; American Romanticism over a digital abyss.