Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Beyond the Hills Into Darkness

Brandon, great post on BEYOND THE HILLS.  I'm glad you found it as rich, complex, and engrossing as I did.  I deserve that little dig for giving a caveat over the film's length and deliberate pacing haha.  It doesn't move any more leisurely than your average art film, and truly there isn't a lot of dead space where nothing's happening to warrant such a warning.  It remains intense and searingly complex through just about every scene.  I was just worried its length and pacing might turn some people off of it.  I'm glad that wasn't the case for you.

Your analysis of the film's content is basically spot-on, at least in terms of how I similarly read what was happening.  We seemed to attack it from a homogenous angle.  Obviously, our biggest initial disagreement was over the nature of Mungiu's "condemnation" of the institutions he portrays (or lack thereof).  When I first finished watching it, I didn't get the sense that he was really condemning anyone or anything.  I just felt his frustration and maybe his despair over the muck he finds pervading our modern societal disposition.  But then as I've thought more about this, by the very fact that he suggests that we are all in "muck," there would have to be some condemnation.  The final shot (which is certainly deliberate, and brilliant, in my opinion) is a sort of definitive visual condemnation; it's also intensely, painfully aware.  I think he's saying that we are in a hell of a quagmire concerning the incompatibility of our institutions, and there's no apparent way of escaping it.  The problem is not just this orthodox religion that seems antiquated and backwards within modernity, but the modern society that can hardly accept it.  Medical institutions don't come across any better than the religion here.  Neither shows any real capacity to handle the problem of Alina.  You are completely right and succinct when you say here: "Both parties struggle to THINK up rational resolutions in the suffocating blur of emotion clouding each character’s judgment until tragedy finally strikes."  Well said.  I was gearing myself up for a solid discussion with you about how the film is not condemnatory, but I see now that you were right all along.  There's no invective here; Mungiu is by no means preaching or trying to proselytize; he's just upset and frustrated, and he expresses it through a general outcry against the various guilty parties involved.

I think it's truly fascinating that at the heart of BEYOND THE HILLS we have a thwarted love story between two women.  The religion, the hospital, the cops, the entire world surrounding the orthodox compound – they are all caught by Alina and Voichita's central, incommunicable predicament.
The religion and the nuns involved in it aren't evil; they just doesn't understand Alina's problem nor do they understand how to deal with her.  The hospital isn't any different.  You're right in saying that much of their irrationality towards her stems from their fear of her.  They are much too powerless to have a reasonable or helpful solution for her.  And Alina's reaction towards them is just as much irrational.  She is also guilty of not understanding or for not willing to be.

So, yeah, there's definitely condemnation here.  There is also a distance from the material in the way much the film is shot and framed, as if a "laying things bare and leaving you to ponder their consequences" type thing were happening.  Mungiu's clearly frustrated by what has taken place in the film, and I read that last shot as him basically throwing up his hands in bewilderment, asking us all, "what the hell do we do?"  I think he's an immensely talented and intelligent filmmaker, and that BEYOND THE HILLS is even better than 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS.  I too am glad that he shows so much bravado in choosing provocative and controversial subject matter for his films.  He's definitely not shy, and he's incredibly confidant based of the sheer artistry and audacity involved in his first two films.  I already can't wait for his next one.

In other recent film news, I thought STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS was a solid continuation of the first film.  It's silly and contains many outlandish set pieces and narrative contrivances, but it's mostly thrilling throughout and, very importantly, it recreates much of the first film's sense of insouciance and playfulness between characters.  I wasn't looking for much else from it other than to avoid boredom, and it didn't disappoint in this regard.  Good, weightless fun.

THIS IS FORTY was largely disappointing, but to be honest, I wasn't expecting all that much from it.  I'm still a huge fan of KNOCKED UP, but I'm about ready to give up on Apatow as a director after FUNNY PEOPLE and now this mess of a film.  THIS IS FORTY is just as bloated and cloying as the worst parts of FUNNY PEOPLE, but it was somehow less funny and more aimless.  It has no real sense of narrative cohesion or direction, and hardly anything compelling to say that isn't already obvious from observing most families.  Also, as Brandon mentioned, it suffers irreparably from being nearly impossible to connect to unless you are incredibly wealthy.  Apatow has written so much of his privileged status into his films lately that he's lost sight of what makes a story compelling.
There is, however, a single profound shot in the movie with one of the daughters playing with her keyboard while her parents are arguing in the next room, and apart from a few decent Paul Rudd jokes, it is easily the strongest moment of this otherwise dull, futile film.  Apatow needs to step out of the coziness of his mansion and mingle with the people again real soon.

I don't really have a lot to write about LIFE OF PI.  I enjoyed most of it, and there are even a few moments that I found in it to be quite beautiful and moving.  It looks sharp, and it's a decent adventure story.  That's really all I've got to say about it haha.

School is all done in a week or so.  I don't leave for Philadelphia until late August, and I won't be working for the time in between.  That should give me plenty of time to get more blogging in.  Hopefully you'll see more from me on here.

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