Friday, June 22, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.07: Disobedience and Damsel

Another day, another jump out of order to accommodate the fact that these movies are coming out faster than my lazy brain can review them. Disobedience hit theaters practically as soon as the festival ended, so it got a review on EFC right away and then this file got pushed aside until I needed to write up Damsel, so it's currently just hanging around at West Newton. Damsel, on the other hand, is just opening in New York and L.A. this weekend.

No guests for either, which is a bit of a shame - David Zellner hosted a fun Q&A for Kumiko the Treasure Hunter at Fantasia a few years back (probably did one just as good at IFFBoston then, too), and while I don't know that their film needs to be discussed in great detail, I suspect I'd really enjoy him and his brother taking "what was directing Robert Forster in that scene like?", "what made you think of casting Robert Pattinson as this goober, since he's usually broody or intense?", and maybe "what's up with always making sure you've got a super-cute animal in the middle of your movies that go to dark places?" and just going on for a while.

And as much as I often express a little frustration at winding up in films that have distribution at the festival, I'm glad it happened with Damsel. As much as I liked Kumiko enough to want to see its makers' next movie, I could see it getting lost for me. And though it's clunky and flawed, I do find myself recommending it - there's enough genuine strangeness to it to mostly make up for how it could have been easier to watch if it had been more conventional.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2018 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

I wonder, a bit, how Disobedience plays for people who find religion to be of value in their lives. Does that perspective lend the characters' struggles extra nuance, with shadings that the non-religious cannot see, or does it make the film seem harsher and more dismissive? That's something its makers may be perfectly fine with - though earnest and precise in their storytelling, they are not exactly subtle - although it sometimes creates the feeling that something is missing from an otherwise excellent film.

Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser) has just died in the middle of a sermon in a London synagogue, and his daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz) - a photographer working in New York under the name "Ronnie Curtis" might never have known if someone hadn't sent word to a local shul; she left the community years ago and has been persona non grata there ever since, to the point where the paper reported that the elder Kushka died childless. She still opts to return to observe shabbat, cautiously welcomed by Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola), her father's prize student who, in Ronit's absence, married her best friend Esti (Rachel McAdams). Though "best friend" understates things; the mutual attraction of these two women was the scandal that led to Ronit's self-exile.

I've long suspected that if you dropped Rachel McAdams into an earlier Hollywood era, she'd be a far bigger star than she is now and maybe more respected as well; her hits as a lead have tended to skew more toward female audience than the films which get the most coverage, and she's seldom been given the best part in an ensemble cast. She's terrific in this and maybe won't get her due because the film isn't obviously built around her character so much as it is Rachel Weisz's Ronit, but McAdams's Esti is always the one worth watching. McAdams sells the tongue-tied surprise at Ronit's return as well as the long-simmering resentment over her departure, and brings out an entertainingly barbed tongue without the stretches where she seems to fit into her conservative community seeming entirely false. Esti's the one with decisions to make right now, and McAdams makes that clear without a lot of obvious hand-wringing.

Full review on EFC


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2018 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

The Zellner Brothers' Damsel has the odd habit of trading one memorable performance and situation for another rather than letting them build into something bigger, filling in the gaps with admittedly entertaining deadpan oddity. It makes for a movie that feels like the filmmakers came up with a bunch of Old West gags and laid them end to end, managing a constant sort of arch tone and not quite wearing it out.

It starts on that route right after the title, having a frustrated preacher (Robert Forster) sits next to another man, waiting for a stage, goes on a rant about the misery of the frontier and the lack of an audience for God's word, casting aside his vestments and walking into the dust and out of the movie. It's a neat little scene that could be yanked out without damaging the rest of the film much, if at all, but it's Robert Forster performing a sort of alchemy that turns the character's exasperation and ignorance into dark humor. The film may not need this particular moment or character, but it's worth having Forster do this scene somewhere, and this movie seems as good a choice as any.

After that, the movie proper starts, with Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson) arriving in a small town to rescue his beloved Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) from Anton Cornell (Gabe Casdorph), the bandit who stole her from him. He's brought a fantastic gift and retained the town's preacher, Parson Henry (David Zellner) to come with him so that they can be married just as soon as the rescue is complete. Being a timid man, Henry is none too pleased to discover that there are outlaws, including Anto's brother Rufus (Nathan Zellner), between them and their goal, and when they arrive at their destination, things naturally spin further out of control.

Full review on EFC

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