A 2021 Film Journey: Day 134

I know I missed my post again yesterday; this has been a difficult week for me. I ended up messaging a friend in near tears last night asking for permission to not make a post. With another night of rest under my belt, and a weekend upcoming, I am feeling much better today than I have in a couple of weeks. So today I was once again able to watch a new to me movie and give it a quick post.

Desert Hearts (1985, Dir. Donna Deitch)

Picture of Desert Hearts

This film was so wonderfully gay, it made this lesbian’s heart sing. The young, out lesbian Cay (Patricia Charbonneau) fits a common trope as the persuasive lesbian on the prowl, but her younger age provides significant character depth beyond initial glance. When she falls for Vivian (Helen Shaver), Cay being 10 years younger than the professor runs counterintuitive to the tropes that would become standard in later years. Instead of an older lesbian seducing an unexpecting women through her experience, in Desert Hearts it is the younger woman who does the seducing. This builds upon Vivian’s character arc; the years she wasted in a marriage that she is in the process of terminating become more pronounced when realizing that they kept her from experiencing the kind of love that Cay provides.

The other unique aspect that Desert Hearts provides to the lesbian romance is a unique take on the love triangle through Frances (Audra Lindley). While Frances has no romantic attraction for either woman (in fact she finds Cay’s lifestyle unsavory), she shares a different, strong relationship with each. While not legally her daughter, Frances views Cay as such, and even when Cay frustrates Frances, her love is mostly unconditional. With Vivian on the other hand, Frances had just met her but is quickly considering her a good friend – a form of platonic love. The way that Vivian and Cay’s romance plays with this unconventional love triangle lends the already enjoyable Desert Hearts a welcome narrative depth to go with the classic lesbian tale.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 132

I am cheating on my rules today. I wanted this project to be exclusively about films that are new to me (or that I at least have not seen in my post college life), but with the amount that I have been struggling just watching and posting anything lately, I chose to give myself a pass today. While the movie I chose to watch may seem odd given my current mental state, just trust me when I say it makes sense to me.

Melancholia (2011, Dir. Lars von Trier)

Lars von Trier's “Melancholia”: A Discussion | Film Quarterly

I adore this film in ways that it is going to be difficult for me to fully explain today. Rather than fail to talk about everything the film does to make it the masterpiece it is, I want to touch on an extremely personal aspect of it that resonates with me. Lars von Trier’s previous film Antichrist (2009) was created in a self-admitted state of deep depression. While a great film itself, that film felt the weight of the director’s depression in an unrelenting way.

Two years later, and von Trier was in a less depressed place and was able to look back on that extreme depression from a happier place on the other side. This hindsight keeps the mood similarly heavy, but it allows for less absolutes in intensity. This allows for a more honest portrayal of mental illness. Like her director, Kirsten Dunst came at the material from the prospective of someone who had openly dealt with depression previously. She uses this experience to deliver a perfect performance that depicts serious depression outside of normal fictional portrayals and instead creates something much more brutally honest. It is in this honesty stemming from the director and actress’s experience that results in Melancholia being one of the films that most perfectly crafted depictions of mental illness set to film.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 131

I am sorry I went AWOL for the last week plus. On Sunday the second, I got my first COVID shot and proceeded to get almost immediately extremely sick. My need to do nothing but sleep led me to missing a few posts and from there the anxiety and depression really took hold. Each day missed begat the next day missed until more than a week went by without a single post from me. I have felt awful about myself because of the misses, but as I felt worse it became harder to motivate myself to watch anything and thus it became a spiral down. Thankfully, tonight I managed to take a seat on my couch, let a cat jump on my lap, and watch a movie. Thank you for putting up with a longer blog section and a shorter movie review as I get back in the swing of things.

Wildlife (2018, Dir. Paul Dano)

Wildlife movie review & film summary (2018) | Roger Ebert

To this day the only film directed by Paul Dano is a complicated depiction of a volatile family set in 1960. Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) has been uplifting his family in search of an easy answer, and after he refuses to take his job back following a wrongful termination, he instead leaves the family to fight wildfires until the first snow. This abandonment is one too many transgressions for his wife Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) to take. The bulk of the film follows Joe (Ed Oxenbould) as he watches his mother attempt to process her remaining feelings for her husband and the selfish actions that he takes.

For being a freshman director, Paul Dano displays a precise handling of tone in his period drama. Shot primarily from Joe’s point of view, Dano taps into the emotions of an overwhelmed 14-year-old watching both parents individually tear apart their marriage. While some of the personal complexities may be over Joe’s head, Dano captures these intricacies without betraying Joe’s point of view. As a whole the film is superb, but if there is any flaw, it would be that Gyllenhaal is not especially convincing at playing someone from 1960. This deficiency is further exacerbated by casting him aside Mulligan who was born to play roles from the mid-20th century. It is not enough to ruin the film by any extent, but it did stand out.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 121

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 121

As with last night, I once again looked to my criterion shelf for tonight’s viewing. More than picking a film at random tonight, I wanted to acknowledge the importance of the holiday with my choice. My initial inclination was to allow myself a re-watch and revisit Jacques Demy’s workers strike musical Une Chambre en Ville (1982). That film is a personal pick of a hidden gem and I was close to putting it on when an obvious alternative caught my eye.

Che: Part One and Che: Part Two (2008, Dir. Steven Soderbergh)

Che: Part One (2008) directed by Steven Soderbergh • Reviews, film + cast •  Letterboxd

Both IMDB and Letterboxd consider each half of the four-and-a-half-hour biopic about the Marxist revolutionary to be separate films, and while I am going to be combining them for the sake of discussion, I do find the separation to be useful. Each part tells a somewhat self-contained story of a South American revolution under the guidance of the Argentinian Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Benicio Del Toro). Che: Part One focuses on his work liberating Cuba and helping to install Fidel Castro (Demián Bichir) in the 1950s while Che: Part Two looked at his attempt at another revolution in Bolivia which led to his capture and execution.

The interplay between the two films is intriguing. The film was originally in development by Terrence Malick who wanted to create a film exclusively focusing on Guevara’s attempted revolution in Bolivia. After financing fell through Malick left the project and Soderbergh took over. One of Soderbergh’s first decisions was that Guevara’s time in Bolivia would be better served with background and thus the first part was created to support the now second part. Considering that part one was created as a supplemental piece, it is interesting that part one is significantly more entertaining and a more artistic use of filmmaking.

While both films chronicle a revolution that marked a period of Guevara’s life, they do so in unique ways. Che: Part Two is somewhat indistinguishable from any war film. Politics and economics may take a more front seat approach than in more American focused wars, but the cinematic language is the same. It tells a conventional chronologic narrative. Conversely, Che: Part One jumps years between Guevara’s time in the revolution before Castro rose to power and his time as an ambassador for Cuba. These are as easily distinguishable with the revolution shot in color and time as an ambassador in black and white. By piecing together the first film non linearly, Soderbergh develops more nuanced themes and results in a more entertaining watch.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 120

I need to figure out my sleep schedule. This is coming out super late, but this is just where I am right now, I guess. On the bright side, I feel like I have a little more direction in the movies that I am going to watch over the next bit of time. In the past decade, I have done quite a bit of Criterion Blu-ray collecting, and my collection has vastly outpaced the films I have actually watched. So, for the next month or so, I am going to attempt to watch an unwatched criterion release from my shelf.

My Brilliant Career (1980, Dir. Gillian Armstrong)

My Brilliant Career (1979) directed by Gillian Armstrong • Reviews, film +  cast • Letterboxd

My Brilliant Career may be the most clear-cut example of a “women’s film” ever created, but I do not mean that in a disparaging way. Gillian Armstrong’s sophomore feature checks off many of the cliched boxes for those films. It is a period drama/ romance where a young woman rebuffs the dated ideas of what a woman’s role in the world is. In this way, the film has a significant amount in common with Armstrong’s most well-known film Little Women (1994), and much like with her take on that classic Armstrong elevates the formulaic story into something special.

What enhances these tales is Armstrong’s respect for her leads. Sybylla (Judy Davis) is a woman ahead of her time, but rather than fully endorse the anachronistic protagonist, Armstrong paints a picture as woman whose flaws enhance her complexity. Sybylla’s objection to marriage come from a place of self-actualization, but they also leave her alone and longing at times for the simplicity of the women around her. By embracing this dissonance, My Brilliant Career takes a simple formulaic story and builds an engaging and wonderful picture.