Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review: A QUIET PASSION

 A group of intense young women standing in lines. Sunlight fills the room but there is no warmth. The reverse shot is of a severe middle aged woman in the black of widows or public executioners. She barks commands that physically divide the group into two according to religious commitment, to the left and right of her. Alone in the centre, the young Emily Dickinson looks fraught. She is grilled briefly by the headmistress but her answers resist the force with boldness, wit and conviction. Her family saves her in the next scene, robbing us of a first act filled with personal rebellion but promising much. Most of the rescue scene is a single shot and is conducted with dialogue. The characters, father, sister, brother and Emily, are lined up like a portrait in oils and there is a tension between the senses that it also feels like a school play. It isn't. It's a Terrence Davies film.

That's not a slight. Biopics are difficult. Most of them end up make a quilt of great moments in history to be draped over any attempt to examine the questions a life story should present. Pollock fails because it presumes our reverence and begs our indulgence. Amadeus works because it keeps the theme front and centre and plays as fiction (and was weakened buy the director's cut which put all the "moments" back in). The recent Trumbo begins with the compelling notion of a writer surviving public ostracism by stealth but very quickly changes down to cruise control by rolling out the desk calendar quotes and history bites. So, what do you do when your subject's chief action scenes are conversations or someone scratching away at paper by lamplight? You get someone who can fill a still scene with deep substance. You get a Terrence Davies.

Since the mesmerising Distant Voices Still Lives Davies has shown a heavy talent for drawing his audiences into what are often long held tableaux, people looking out at us from the screen, shifting on their feet, uncomfortable in the formal clothes of portraiture as their voices tell us what they are thinking, giving us the weight of the moment. In one of these the mother of the group wishes her husband was there for the picture. When we later see his terrifying violence against her we will remember this.

A Quiet Passion doesn't change this pattern much where the dense stillness alternates with scenes of interaction and dialogue that feel like opened windows. There are a few extras this time, though, and they have the odd effect of flaunting the artificiality of some of the wittier dialogue. Some of this plays so tweely you'd think it was an offcut of an old BBC Austen adaptation. That said, I enjoyed the unease of these moments as they worked to add texture to a film that might have collapsed under its own gravity. Also, they are contrasted with comparable later scenes where wit is served as the mark of maturity and experience where a much darker, more severe tone is given.

But what Davies does well is done here. A gentle pan across a parlour reveals a pre-electric family at its leisure who are happy enough until the camera stops on the face of the mother by the fire which glistens with tears that fall from a gaze of deep depression. A family portrait session at a local photography studio serves as a time lapse of years as each of the siblings and their parents grow into their age. Emily and her sharp witted friend Vryling trade epigrams in the garden providing supplemental commentary on what they are seeing with snapping fans or umbrellas. The mother at the end of her life is bathed by her daughters as her stroke ravaged face is beyond expression. Emily's own violent seizures at the end of her life remind us of this and the powerlessness of we who watch to help and so we are horrorstruck.

Between these moments, none of more note than similar ones in the surrounding houses at the time, we find the poet. Cynthia Nixon recites apt passages from Dickinson's verses throughout the film and there we hear what she's been doing as we've seen her at the table with quill, paper and lamp all that time. The readings are expressive without affectation. Their ease might make a more literal or begging film boring but this is where A Quiet Passion differs from most filmed life stories. But Nixon's readings are like her performance throughout, nuanced and elegant with a placid mask that her life has taught her will stand guard against the vulnerability of constant disappointment or even the terror of mortality. In her thrashing agonies, punishing wit, or the crushing sadness of her imagining of the midnight world of sexuality (where her conjured suitor climbs the steps like the grim reaper) Cynthia Nixon brings shining life to Emily Dickinson, one that we could only guess at from the sole photographic portrait we have of a freckled country girl with haunted eyes in a scratched Daguerreotype.

Where a lesser biographical film tries to cram years into hours on screen Terrence Davies gives us the days, long and almost uniform, enhanced by sculpted thoughts and home baked bread. There being so little to report by way of moment we are given something more like moments spent. For an Emily Dickinson there can be no better tribute.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review: 20th CENTURY WOMEN

Middle aged Dorothea watches as her son Jamie grows into his adolescence and feels increasingly out of touch with him. It's 1979, California, and she lives in the kind of mixed generational share house I can recall from that era in Queensland. Does it take a share house to raise a child or should Dorothea seek the help of people closer to Jamie's age? She tries with Abbie (in her mid-20s already an ageing punk, yes that's meant to be funny in the film as well) and teenaged Julie who flees her single-mother therapist's house nightly to sleep platonically with Jamie. The girl and young woman say yes to helping out but admit they probably won't be able to do much. Conspicuous by his absence in the discussion is ageing hippie William, renovator and handyman but too uncommitted for the task. There's always the idea of let Jamie get through it himself which might just happen anyway.

You get the idea, this is a screen version of the roman fleuve or river novel in which life rolls out before us with here and there a rip, snag or rapid but mostly just there for the pleasure of the flow. We see relationships develop through trial and others bruised by neglect. We see life. Not having the gimmick of Boyhood where we were as engaged by the real ageing of the cast in time as we were by some fine filmmaking and running on a much smaller timeline (outside of narration we go through less than one year) we must at least warm up to these characters in the course of two screen hours.

The good news is that this pretty much happens. Annette Benning delivers a character who invites us despite her resistance to change. Is her performance a touch studied with its measured facial expressions and actor-workshop voice control? Maybe, but those things are done with charm enough for us to follow. Greta Gerwig breaks a little free of the cage of quirk she made for herself with the execrable Frances Ha, allowing for some real pathos to open her up to us. Elle Fanning has the toughest job of the three women of the title in building a tightly fraught teenager out of her barely veiled pain towards us. She is the most intentionally frustrating character and we need to see that this is protection as much as youth and in some touching moments of vulnerability we do. The women, past, present and future, in their way, give us a century of western life.

For his part, Lucas Jade Zumann who has to compete with all this for his time on screen can occasionally fade into the scenery as everything else happens, even when he is at its centre. It's not the actor's fault (though by comparison his is the least forceful performance); he is the stand-in for the writer director who is recalling himself as more observer than actor. Perhaps the most helpful thing to say of him is that he fits. Billy Crudup, who I remember most immediately as a rock star in Almost Famous and then more recently with tense restraint as the journalist/confessor in Jackie, is a quiet delight as William with his "far out" party pickup lines and formless life advice. These are the men of 20th Century Women, essential but to one side which is the purpose this time.

While the flow of life idea works for most of the running time there are a few too many false endings which drew winces. Even if the subsequent scenes assuaged by providing fresh interest or at least charm the trend began to feel like undisciplined writing even with the low-plot scheme taken into account.

Something I did enjoy, though, was that the period nostalgia was kept at a low setting. The late 70s punk scene just feels here like a band scene, the records and the gigs the way they always have. Handy, of course, to set the story at a time when the active younger generation determinedly didn't have its own patois so that instant self-embarrassment doesn't appear. The setting is also important as a kind of farewell to the youth of the pre-internet world where the consultation, the guidance and the wisdom came more tightly filtered from parents and peers and so much had to rely on trial and a lot of error. For me, a major pleasure of this film was not nostalgic for a cultural period so much as the sense of promise, of self-regulation and social progress that we felt was achievable against the shadow of the creaking end of the cold war and its daily promise of global annihilation. If we could just get through high school and get out there and make things better. Didn't happen, of course, and never quite does, but the warmth of it and the dangers of the warmth were palpable.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

WHY I LIKE THE NEW TWIN PEAKS AND WHY I DON'T THINK DAVID LYNCH IS WEIRD

Music fan or lyrics fan? We humans are a nasty bunch and like seeing people join lines. One of them is saying something like: music is the pure expression of the emotions. The other: the music wouldn't be there if the words weren't, they guide the music. I'm in the first line. I love religious music from the Renaissance. It's often only vocal but the words can never mean much to me because they are (a) religious and (b) usually in Latin. But the music can lift my heart with every play.

The recent hefty four episode beginning of the Twin Peaks reboot has seen the sides drawn up along similar lines. Some want more of the quirky dark of the original series and others, like me, could not be more pleased at the intensity of the new vision. I think there's a way between and I think that it will only come to those who wait.

The common wisdom of the first run of Twin Peaks is that it was a compelling mystery until the killer was outed and then just turned whacky, lost its way and tried, like fruit trees at the end of their lives, to give as much as possible at the last moment. The suits at the network forced the big answer out of Lynch and Frost and the vacuum left in the wake was all quirk and cuteness. Windom Earle wasn't scary enough to darken the froth. There was a lot of plot, more than the first season, but the music had gone soft.

And then came the finale in the red room, both white and black lodges depending on how courageous you felt. The red curtains, zigzag floor pattern were lit a little too high but the events and dialogue gave out a lot of lovely slippery unreality that ended with the worst that could happen. Come back, Dave, all is forgiven. But that was it and the David Lynch, whose name was known after Blue Velvet and had become an adjective after Twin Peaks was, to the best reckoning of the mainstream, as much a one-hit wonder as Men Without Hats.

Now he's back, they're back, it is hap-en-ning ag-gain. A call back from the finale between Cooper and Laura repeats the promise of the return in twenty-five years. A sombre version of the opening credits sequence plays out with the familiar twang of the theme and we're in. Well, we're somewhere. Black and white. The giant gives an aged Cooper a few cryptic pointers. There's a little bit of the old Twin Peaks world but everything has changed. No one comes into the diner yodelling about pie and coffee. Mostly, the Coop, still bad from the finale but gnarled by age and evil, is loose in the land. He enters in a car the way his good self did at the very beginning but it's in a nightscape with an ugly rock remix blasting. The good self is back in the lodge getting schooled in the situation. There's a murder case somewhere else and a dismal room in Manhattan with a glass box surrounded by electronics. We're in deep.

Which is the problem for a fair few on the social media commentariat. We get four hours of this bleakness, these strange settings (even in an infinite starfield in one scene), scary looking beings appearing and disappearing and some industrial strength ugliness. So where are the cute teens, snappy one-liner dialogue between the worldly and corrupt adults and the cosy unease? Where, also, is the story that we are might cling to? Who is the protagonist? Have we waited this long for such a mess of hints of greatest hits and stale whimsy served as fresh?

Well, that's what I've been reading, not seeing on the screen. I enjoyed seeing the brothers Horne again as well as the life at the station. But I LOVED the new lodge sequences, the unnerving new places and soundscapes. Yes, a lot of it seems disjointed and chaotic but I won't have try-hard or cheap surrealism flung at it. Why? Because a very clear arc is forming with two opposing forces in places as dark and nasty as where the original series left off. Did anyone really expect Cooper to get over the state he was in as though it were a head cold? There's a lot of climbing back to do and it has to start in some ugly places. That is actually as true to the original series as we could have hoped, at least initially.

Also, Lynch has done a fair few films since the early nineties and with one exception they have been getting increasingly intense with a lightless Twin Peaks prequel and three tilts at extreme fugue states, ending in his toughest since Eraserhead with Inland Empire. If anything, the pleasanter, familiar moments in the new series seem like the anomalies.

Another aspect I'm enjoying is the sense of the swansong happening here. There are aesthetic nods to everything Lynch has done from his student films to his painting and sculpture. There are even things taken from unproduced projects: the identity confusion in one thread owes a lot to the goofy One Saliva Bubble and there are plenty of glints and ideas from Ronnie Rocket. Lynch has declared that he and cinema are done and that this would be it forever. Like the scenes in the original finale that repeated moments from the pilot we are seeing Lynch stroll around his works and recall moments that are then mixed into the business at hand.

If you want energetic plotting you should remind yourself of the restless narrative threads of the second season of the original series which became all plot without point. Or you could revisit the alien conspiracy arc of the X-Files which stoushed any slight answer with louder questions. Or the entire run of Lost. You might want to remind yourself that one season of Breaking Bad kept inserting images of stuffed toys in a swimming pool which went unexplained until the final episode. You might recall that the great Mad Men more than once ended its seasons on notes so down they felt like second-last scenes. Remember the finale of the Sopranos? I mean the very very last minute or so. The golden age of television which followed Twin Peaks (and contributed to its birth and character) changed the game to include a lot of variety of approach. Still want fun quirk and stories? Take a look at Fargo or Mozart in the Jungle. They do both as a matter of course and are really, really good at them. This Twin Peaks isn't like that because it can't be ... yet.

But what about all that weird imagery, all that cod surrealism? Isn't that just a big wanky time waste? Not to me but I don't think of it that way. I also don't think of David Lynch movies as weird. First, when I see the eyeless woman in the purple room who tries with pathetic grunts to prevent Cooper from opening a door I see someone who is frightened. The scene is arrestingly strange but has a clear internal logic. As with all the more intense Lynch stuff, if you think it's alienating or baffling, clock the emotion and follow that (there is always clear emotion in a Lynch scene, overblown or not but always); it will pretty much always take you somewhere. A viewing of Inland Empire might be too big an ask but try a few scenes of it with this in mind and leave off trying to interpret symbolism and see how you get on with it that way (it might well still seem like crap but nothing's for everyone).

Second, I see scenes like that and want to walk around in them. Lynch's style is, for me at least, powerfully imaginative. When I saw the red room sequence in the advanced pilot for the original series (released on VHS rental here in 1990), as much as I enjoyed the loopy dialogue or noirish atmosphere of the main body I wanted as much of the series to come to be set in that curtained place where people say things backwards and origami birds fly past as shadows through the curtains. When the show turned out to be as conventional as it was I got into it but felt let down. And then when it went goofy it lost me. The music faded and the words bred like insects. Then the finale happened and things got back to where I wanted. And then it ended. Now it's back and where I wanted it to be, heavy on imagination with some pleasant call backs.

You want plot and the spirit of the old show? I think you'll get both. We have a tale that has drawn battle lines in the first few scenes and developed them already. The character interaction in the perceptibly real world is plausible and the look and feel of the world beyond life and death (as the finale was later titled for broadcast) plays by rules we can follow if we note how events affect their inhabitants. I believe that it's clear that these forces (the manifestations of Cooper and whatever else is in there) will converge and will most probably face off in the town of Twin Peaks. We have only seen the stirring in the murk where we had left off and there is still most of the series to come. Meantime, I have all the music I can eat.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Review: NERUDA

1948 and the government of Chile is cracking down on a very active left. Prominent communist senator and renowned poet Pablo Neruda is targeted as a high profile threat. He flees the city with his wife, detective Oscar Peluchonneau in pursuit. This reads like a decent enough thriller with some added spice from the historical basis. But this is a film by Pablo Larrain and we've been here before.

His No, an account of the Chilean referendum that brought Pinochet's regime to an end was a fraught blend of menace and the day to day. The more recent Jackie used a familiar historical story to pose questions about the public face with a clever literalism. Neruda gives us a popular figure, showing both his heroic persona and private hedonism, a bourgeois communist who revels in his stardom while hoping that his vanity doesn't obscure his political commitment. This tension is admired by his pursuer (an intense Gael Garcia Bernal) who uses his fascination with Neruda as a spur in the chase.

I say chase but the action is very deliberately kept at a low priority. We are not following a hunt but examining both hunter and hunted as players. Oscar is self conscious. While we see much of Neruda in his various roles from public orator to private sensualist it is the policeman's voice that guides us. Oscar's narration is the first voice we hear in the film and his voiceover is the constant in a constantly shifting visual field. He describes his actions as a novelist might (a good detective does this or a clever detective thinks this) and we think of him as having the same vanity as his quarry until the possibility that he is only quoting the Neruda paperback that he carries constantly. The pursuit itself is a fiction no more intended to serve as biography than Jackie. We're here to watch the game and think about what it is to play a starring role in public life and if we as its pursuers might not aspire to something more impressive than a supporting character.

Larrain makes a lot of use of a strange technique whereby a single dialogue is given a number of settings uninterrupted. One moment Oscar is talking to Neruda's mistress on the terrace of her mountain villa but an answering line is delivered across a dining table. The next might be back on the terrace or in the street. While Larrain offers this blatantly he suggests little as to why. I had the feeling that it was akin to how individually art-directed our recollections of encounters and conversations can be, where we stand within them (momentously silhouetted by a window or warmly lit by oil lamps in an Andean tent) as leads, supports, or just extras. It is given gently and perhaps it or something like it is necessitated by the suppression of the chase narrative. If nothing else we are confronted with its reminder of the fiction of what we are seeing.

I watch Larrain's political biographies and I think of how much I prefer them to the Oliver Stone approach of locker-room home truths and pushed reconstructions. Stone slaps us with his verity, giving us no time to question it (well, we did ask him to do that when we bought the ticket). Larrain assumes we know something of the story he tells (or at least its nature as in the detective story in Neruda) and asks us in to chat about the things he has found while telling it. Watching this film I thought of The Conformist and from before it Alphaville and how much I have missed such a blend of art and politics. Don't be fooled by the trailer that wants you to think of it as a high cal thriller. It's much better than that.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Review: GET OUT

A young couple prepare to spend the weekend at her parents' house in the country. He, Chris, is troubled as he suspects she, Rose, has not told them that he's black. She assures him that they will be fine and, reluctantly, he goes along with it. They head off in her car and hit a deer along the way. After an uncomfortable encounter with a local cop who pays more attention that he should to Chris they arrive at the family seat and experience a series of awkward dad-meets-boyfriend moments blended with the kind of soft-faced patronising racism that only the one percent can perform in the belief that its undetectable.

Where we started as Guess Who's Coming to Dinner but we are very swiftly transported to the soil from which grew Rosemary's Baby or the Stepford Wives as the local gentry gather to prod, condescend to and frankly evaluate the newcomer. If his encounters with the African American domestic staff have come off as unnerving his meeting with the sole black guest at a garden party is solidly eerie. The mounting alienation and measured discomfort are not about to abate at any time soon. What has he got himself into?

This sci-horror fable of race relations is candid about its ancestry, eschewing contemporary irony in favour of a direct linear ride through a grim moral landscape. While I at first baulked at the literal orchestral music cues with their menacing strings and brass it soon became apparent that they were fitting very snugly in with the scheme and I was able to relax and let it take me where it would. While there are no Shyamalanian twists or thunderous revelations in the third act Get Out uses its relatively simple path to immerse us in its concentrated abstraction of the experience of the outsider and the disturbing lack of social progress it witnesses.

As the film is so doggedly single-tracked and big-themed the care in the casting must rate more highly than the writing. Londoner Daniel Kaluuya brings a brooding malcontent restrained by social skill. When he breaks it is in tight step with the narrative and avoids clunky foreshadowing. The rapport between him and Allison Williams as the central couple has a breezy and intimidating fleetness. When she must change her demeanour towards the final act its ice is weighty for the contrast. Caleb Landry Jones brings the same baby Brad Dourif tenterhooked edge he brought to Antiviral. Bradley Whitford maintains a suave but barely veiled hostility throughout as Rose's father. And then there's Catherine Keener, genuinely scary as she presents a maternal face that contains a pair of contemptuous eyes. So, good cast, good idea with a firm helm: does it work?

Because of the intentional one-note execution the mood of this film can take a little acclimatisation. I can easily imagine some folk judging it to be hollow, wanting more of a balance after the onslaught of genteel hostility that envelopes Chris, more of a turn to the tables. But I don't think that's on the agenda here. If we want our experience of this failed acculturation is it not better to take that imbalance from the experience? If the big music scoring and obvious genre tropes leave us in no doubt as to the purpose of the film might that not also work to give us pause to consider its motivation? This is an angry film. How wonderful, then, to find that anger served with such effortless skill. Sometimes we just need to feel the discomfort and if this film tells us repeatedly that we're allowed to .....

Monday, April 24, 2017

Review: COLOSSAL

A prologue. Seoul. A young girl has lost her doll and is looking for it on a lawn at night. Her mother calls her to come back home but she persists and finds it. As she does the sky explodes with electricity and a giant monster appears stamping through the city. Mother and daughter scream.

Cut to twenty-five years later and across the world to Manhattan. Gloria gets evicted from her apartment and relationship as her boyfriend can't take her spiralling drunkenness. She goes back to her small town and moves into the vacant house where she grew up. She hooks back up with a childhood friend who gives her a job in his bar. The next day she wakes from a drunken revel to the news that Seoul has been terrorised by a giant monster. A Youtube clip confirms it as the one we saw at the beginning. The town, like the rest of the world, is marvelling at the sight as the monster returns and wreaks damage on the Korean capital. But Gloria has noticed something.

Not only does the monster have the same head scratch she does when she's nervous but the gestures, reported as mysterious by the media, seem oddly familiar. Details of the early morning end of the previous night's abandon, a sluggish ramble through a children's playground, and a map of Seoul lead her to test a theory. It proves to be true. She is the monster, the one bashing the city.

This fable of growing up and accepting responsibility is steadily enjoyable but suffers from a lack of tension in the second act. The central group of characters gathered around Gloria have tension points that get exposed on tap rather than from work that might both add depth along the way so they would feel inevitable when revealed. And then when they are revealed the film can feel quilted as some scenes only serve mechanics while others play quite naturally and the pleasure of the story's conceit is sweetened. The unevenness causes drag and makes us feel that even at its reasonable hundred and ten minutes it can feel too long.

This is not the fault of the casting. Jason Sudekis brings nuance and depth to his small town boy grown up that allows his character magnetism but also space for disaster. The wonderful Tim Blake Nelson is achingly underwritten but his every scene is a delight. Mostly, at the centre, it's Anne Hathaway who summons every trick and trope of her art to go with and against her doe-eyed vulnerability, forcing intelligence and anger into a role that might have stopped at the vulnerability. She's a joy to watch.

The problem is in the writing and direction. Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo who gives us both a kind of mid point between Michel Gondry's hard-edged whimsy and his compadre Guillermo Del Toro's expertise with dark fable. The problem is that the mix of whimsy and horror never quite blends where a stricter focus on Gloria's overcoming her resistance against her own responsibility might have made a leaner but harder (and better) film.

It was Vigalondo's name that sent me to the cinema. His lean and mean Timecrimes wowed me and the later Open Windows added some solidly disturbing implications to the real time thriller format. But, perhaps intentionally, there was no time for characterisation in the tight loop of the first and little need for it in the rush of the second. It might sound strange to say but Colossal could have done with a little less warmth, a little less writerly depth, and more of a reckless cavalry charge to the conclusion.

The scene in which we are given the kind of reason we were denied in Timecrimes for the bizarre events of the story and the smart and affecting conclusion by their ingenuity and emotional power do make up for a lot of the loose dragging of the journey. And the eloquence of the facial expression of the final shot shows us how much Viglondo relished working with his cast. I'll still be in the queue for the next Nacho Viglondo film. Perhaps a little more cautious but still there.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review: PERSONAL SHOPPER

Maureen Cartwright, a young American in Paris, walks cautiously through a darkened house, seeking a sign from her dead brother. His widow and the couple who want to buy the place are waiting on her report. The scene is thick with dread. At one point we see a vague shape that could be a trick of the light or a spirit form behind her. When asked she admits that she doesn't know if there is anything in the house. She returns to the job that allows her to afford time in Paris while she waits for the posthumous sign that brother Lewis promised to give. In Paris she picks out her employers clothes and jewellery.

Though she identifies, as her brother had, as a medium she remains skeptical and cannot commit to belief in the phenomena even as she witnesses it. Her second attempt to contact Lewis in the house is traumatic and drives her back into her life as the personal shopper, a series of routines she dislikes for their triviality but performs expertly. Her difficulties in talking about this beyond some sketchy and irritated impressions leads to a second act dominated by a dialogue entirely in a series of texts as a thrilling but dangerous situation develops. Between this and the blank competence of travel and detached shopping we start to get a better view of the person in the elipse between the two Venn circles of spiritual and material. It involves temptation and dark adventure and ends in bloodshed. But then the mysteries continue.

This tale of the unknown, external and internal, is helmed by Olivier Assayas with a not altogether steady hand. In horror mode the sense of dread is genuine and there are white knuckle thriller moments and while these can easily overlap with the passages that more nakedly examine Maureen's character (which approach Dardennes brothers bleakness) at other junctures the sudden fades to black can feel like a last resort solution. Otherwise, the lighting and lensing are expressive and infrequent plays with focus all add to a pleasurable watch however intense this film can get.

None of this would work without a lead capable of giving us Maureen's different modes with such distinctly different tone and create a credible wholeness from it. Racked by doubt she can find spoken expression frustratingly inadequate. As the eyes and taste of her employer her selections of couture at various boutiques are made with an intimidating precision. When tested by the approach of threat her fear seems to transform into survival adrenaline. Through these three modes alone we are reminded that she is one character rather than an actor proving her range by the solid pedal note of solemnity she carries at all times, visible at the clothes rack, in the haunted house and wheeling around Paris on her scooter, she is always serious. The brief and jagged relief delivered through her Skype calls with what might be a friend or lover offer the slightest glimmer of escape from this intensity but for almost the entire running time which almost entirely features her in sharp focus we are aware of this dark pedal note droning at her core. If you still dismissed Stewart because she rose through Twilight it's time to reassess. Her restraint in this role is her power and there is a lot of it on show.

After the thunder and paranoia of the thriller second act we change again to something like calm, though it, too, involves tension and threat and the sense that we are not necessarily going to end well here is strong. The film's final statement, making the heaviest use of its focal point in a powerful use of noise vs whispers, leaves us in ambiguity and a fade to black. That doesn't qualify as a spoiler as it could be about a number of threads. The ambiguity is not the troubling kind as it is in Assayas' earlier Irma Vep but it offers a weight, if we'll bear it, that feels like our own deal with things unknown.

There's still MIFF to come, Raw, Get Out and who knows what else but I could easily peg this among the best of the imaginable year.